The Bell - Great Heat
Record Label: Badman Recording
Release Date: April 12th, 2011
Swedish trio, The Bell, were forced to implement a slightly uncommon method when writing and recording their newest record entitled Great Heat which was recently released on April 12th via Bad Man Recordings. The trio, split between Stockholm and the southern city of Malmo, created their sophomore release by collaborating on digital media files almost entirely and exclusively through e-mail and Skype programs. The process obviously wasn’t ideal and could have potentially led to a lack of cohesiveness within the album itself but fortunately, Great Heat is gloriously well crafted for a long distance effort. There’s certainly a sizable amount worth admiring such as the group’s sensational ability to effortless recreate a sound that could be heard in a previous eighties era while also maintaining a feeling of modernity - the band’s most enduring quality.
The album is built upon accessible lo-fi synth-pop tunes that swirl around swaths of keyboards. The guitars are layered over insistent rhythmic drumbeats and there’s certainly a delightful influence of eighties nostalgia coursing throughout proceedings. First single and album opener “Whatever Did You Say” gives listeners their first glimpse into the sound The Bell have attempted to create. The hazy vocal harmonies of frontman Mathias Stromberg assist in capturing an immersive quality. Admittedly, the lyrics aren’t anything spectacular but the confidence and eloquence within Stromberg’s delivery throughout the record results in a wonderful listening experience. Eclipsing the four minute duration (the latter two of those minutes featuring charismatic riffs and a further array of primary instrumentation) the track does gradually begin to become slightly repetitive which is its only minor criticism.
Darker textures signal the beginning of the compelling, “Throw Me A Bone” with its gloomy and sombre introduction; that is until the irresistibly poppy chorus begins to sweep in and blossom with the help and assistance of lovely female backing vocals from Josefin Björck. The song structure is simple yet extremely effective with the typical verse, bridge and chorus repetition and the accessible four beat time signature on display. “Today” provides an early album highlight with what is essentially a hook laden statement that’s fuelled by spiraling keyboards, soaring vocal melodies, and the perfectly synchronized arrangement of electronic beats. The lyrics are well written and consist of optimism, looking forward and subsequently moving onwards as is best exemplified during the pulsating second verse. “Time is limited for you to work this out… / But in this case there’s no time for vanity / I will not wait because you doubt.” The track has without doubt the most frenetically upbeat chorus on offer and the succulent melodies that are able to be heard further add to the track's irresistible charm.
“The Sound” begins with delicate and equally intricate instrumentation weaving amongst a somewhat muted opening verse. Vocally, there’s nothing unique occurring here but the tempo in which Stromberg sings creates something of a sonic retro soundscape. Certainly it’s Great Heat’s straight-up pop/rock track that features a climatically cascading chorus and boasts dual chiming guitars as the prominent source of instrumentation. The chorus can become slightly repetitive and dull after repeat listens but there’s more than enough occurring within the distorted vocal harmonies to appreciate and digest.
Great Heat does admittedly have a couple of untimely missteps that must be noted in order to give a fair and unbiased view. While the beginning of “Tell Us You’re Sorry” is musically solid, the vocals are delivered in an almost perpetual sneer. The verses feel highly uninspired, the chorus falls rapidly thin with an unmemorable, “Tell us you’re sorry / Make sure you mean it” being repeated almost verbally in an everyday conversational tone. There’s no sense of direction or urgency and in truth, it feels half-hearted and is perhaps the definition of all that a filler track represents. Likewise, “You Fell Behind” merely drifts along and offers nothing but unwelcome respite from the remaining eight wonderful tracks Great Heat contains.
Fortunately, the album ends in truly breathtaking fashion with the final three tracks being the standouts. “I Can’t Change” has the lovely cadence of a mid-eighties Simple Minds song if only the aforementioned group were slightly more jittery and angular. The track itself is expressive and rousing with its chanted lyrics within the chorus. “23 Seconds” may give a tantalizing hint to the musical future and underlying direction of the group. This is no keyboard driven dance hall tune but instead it’s a remarkably sincere guitar oriented spectacle. The vocals are eerily haunting and the lyrics open to individual interpretation.
Without doubt the most beautiful song you’ll hear on Great Heat is entitled “Dope Makes You” which features prominent female vocals from Josefin Björck at the forefront of each individual verse. It’s an immaculately sung masterpiece as splendidly delivered vocal harmonies continually vie for dominance. Stromberg takes over lead throughout the duration of the chorus and holds up his end of the bargain flawlessly as he sings with absolute conviction, “And when you are lost again/Dope makes you just like other men/And when you’re like other men/Life will look up for you again.” The track soon fizzles out with gorgeous guitar strumming resulting in an expertly crafted pop tune.
Great Heat features ten tracks of warmth and intimacy. When you listen they immediately transport you to a time and/or occasion where everyday struggles and worries seem remotely trivial and unimportant. It offers to take you back a few decades in order to appreciate an era long forgotten. Don’t miss your opportunity because it’s a thoroughly inviting and compelling listen.