The solution was actually veru simple: Instead of relying on malevolent noise makers and malfunctioning computers as Bell X1 did on their last couple of albums, their new Chop Chop shaves their melancholic sound, sculpted by frontman Paul Noonan, bassist Dominic Philips and multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty, down to nothing but reverb-trailed riffs, wildly expressive vocals and
delicately layered rhythms. That way everything at least feels effortless, whether it's the hypnotist hooks of "Starlings Over Brighton Pier," the brain-burrowing torch balladry of "Careful What You Wish For," or the heart-sinking apocalypse now narrative that is "The End Is Nigh."
Their move to a highly structured yet thoroughly satisfying minimalism isn't so surprising when you consider how many shows they've played over the past four years (11 legs in North America alone) and how deep their roots run (they formed their first band as teenagers and this is their sixth studio album). At this point, the chart-topping trio can literally finish one another's sentences.
Furthering each track's tightness were Bartlett and Katis, co-producers who deserve sidemen credits for coloring outside the lines, craftfully adjusting the sound of the thing. "I had seen Thomas play a few times with The Gloaming, and was really struck by what he brought to what I suppose is an Irish traditional music supergroup—less yellowing pints of stout in harsh light, more velvet furnishings and fine wine," explains Noonan. "And the skill with which Peter places elements in the mix is truly a marvel. He made us feel like he was as invested in this as we are.”
The feeling was mutual, as the group embraced their long overdue live/work situation overseas, recording the album at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, CT. "I can't remember the last time I was part of a record that was recorded, mixed and mastered in only two weeks," says Katis. "The guys came in
really prepared song-wise and performance-wise. We had a 'live' setup of drums, bass and upright piano all in the same room—tracking to tape, going for full takes. It was a slightly old-fashioned approach, without the usual digital safety net, and I think that energy comes across in the music."
"We returned to simpler times," adds Noonan, "when all around here was fields. Shrink the palette, you know? Chop chop!"'Chop Chop' LP Tracklisting
01 Starlings Over Brighton Pier
02 A Thousand Little
03 Careful What You Wish For
05 I Will Follow You
06 Drive -By Summer
08 Feint Praise
09 The End Is Nigh