Audio Mixer: Peter Katis.
Recording information: Attica Audio; The Ball of Sound; The Numbers Station.
By the arrival of 2013's Chop Chop, Bell X1 had been through more than a couple of adjustments to their sound, moving from reflective folk-rock through bold, synth-aided anthems and atmospheric ruminations. On their seventh studio album, the self-produced Arms, they offer a brighter art-rock that accentuates groove and texture. The stimulating "Fail Again, Fail Better" gets things moving with quirky samples, synths, a skittering drum cadence, and encouragement via lyrics like "Take the good luck, take the bad luck, and spin it around." Less eccentric but still grooving is the honeyed ballad "The Upswing." Its jazzier accompaniment includes bass, piano, electric guitar, and synth flourishes, none of which draw focus from Paul Noonan's soulful lead vocals and the message that his partner makes things better. Another considerate entry, the over-seven-minute "Take Your Sweet Time," is an elegant wash of quiet synths and manipulated drum tones that repeats the lyrics "all in your own sweet time." A song like "Bring Me a Fire King" takes more of a journey, starting with funky synth pop that incorporates rough-and-ready saxophone before falling out of form and rhythm into sustained synths and seemingly improvised vocals. They eventually re-gather the full band and tempo for a rousing close. Bell X1 hang onto a thoughtful complexity here that marks all of their work to date despite shifts in sound, but there's a hopeful, reassuring thread to the album that sweetens the tone. On the whole comforting without seeming eager-to-please or, worse, becoming dull, Arms feels like a refresher of sorts, both for the band and for listeners. ~ Marcy Donelson