Man, Christopher Bell loves his vocal overdubs. I think 90 percent of the tracks open with really pleasant, slightly offbeat harmonies (all Bell's voice, I'm assuming), usually accompanied by rhythmic tapping or handclapping. One of the tags used to describe Sirens, ten songs of delightful folk pop, is quirky, and this is like the fourth rewrite of this review because I kept using that word to describe the music.
Christopher Bell is a cellist and something of an eccentric. After all, canoeing the Erie Canal and biking from New York to Illinois while touring isn't something you hear about every day. This subtly translates into the music, primarily through the vocal loops, yes, which give the songs a slightly psychedelic, ethereal quality, but also in the playful rhythms Bell employs. "You Are An Atom" uses lovely percussion with whimsical string sound effects (there's a harp-sounding bit that makes me think of birds fluttering their wings), and "In the Morning" follows suit with some fun hand-clapping and barbershop-like vocalization.
The songs, while firmly grounded in indie pop, display a wide variety of influence. "This Road" features some slick beatboxing with syrupy string plucks, and I can't think of more appropriate music to deliver rhymes like "birds and hilltops flutter past / as the engine hums hot and fast." "I Pray" puts Bell's cello skills at the forefront; mournful moans, shady flutes and Bell himself concoct a jazz number that sounds as crisp as a walk on leaves. The finale, "One More Step," is a campfire sing-along that could've been lifted directly from Fun's song catalog. It's a bit heady; at first the vocal harmonies and percussion sounds the same across the board, but then you start noticing the album's nuances, like the ones I've already pointed out, and you think, "Damn, Bell has this on lock."
Crisp production and engaging musical ideas make this album worth checking out, but the wild card is Bell's voice itself. It's not offensive or necessarily bad but it doesn't seem to work with the rest of the music. It has little range, and though youthful, also has trouble conveying some of the emotion the songs need to hit harder. Still, good ideas abound on Sirens, which, at the end of the day, is an album that shows a man exploring not only what he can offer the musical world, but also what the musical world can offer him.
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