Over a decade has passed since we last heard new music from Bell Orchestre. Fans agonized over the thought they might never hear the band again. Then came last fall’s announcement that the band had been signed to Erased Tapes, and that new music would soon be released. The world rejoiced!
The title House Music may conjure memories of a Jungle Brothers song, but this title should be taken literally. The music was recorded in Sarah Neufeld’s Vermont house, where every member of the septet received their own room in which to improvise and dream. Neufeld writes that whenever a band member stepped outside, the music would “bounce around the valley, spooky and glorious.” After two weeks, they jammed together for 90 minutes, then sculpted the recording down to one spontaneous, vibrant, 45-minute jam.
Having seen Bell Orchestre in concert, I can attest that this music is as close to the live experience as one can get from home. Whenever the brass takes the lead, former concert attendees will recall the horn players leaving the stage to frolic among the audience members. And when the wordless voices join in ebullient harmony on “V: Movement,” they convey the mood of the band; these folks truly enjoy each other’s company and are inspired by each other’s presence. They smile while they perform; and after their concerts, they extend smiles into laughter. This sense of unadulterated joy is at the heart of every Bell Orchestre album, brought forth even more in this set, which eschews the long, sedate passages of earlier works (for example, the extended comedown of “Recording a Tunnel”) in favor of propulsion. Neufeld’s violin often sounds like a runaway train, Richard Reed Parry’s bass like a drum and Stefan Schneider’s drums like a torrent of snow melt in spring. By “Dark Steel,” the album is crackling with non-stop energy, metal and string, wood and fire.
While we’ve included a video below, House Music should be viewed more as a set than as a series of tracks. The movements flow into each other like rivers into the sea, ideas stretching across the closing minutes of one to the opening minutes of another. Little trace of an omnipotent hand can be heard; one imagines the band in the forest from beginning to end.
The album is a reminder of what we’ve been missing for the last year: the ability to enjoy music not only as it is performed, but as it is gestated. Ironically, as the album began inside the house yet was performed outside, the title is only the starting point. It’s time to leave these walls. (Richard Allen)