The master vibesman serves up his debut LP, that draws on every facet of his incredible discography and way beyond.
LPs are often a good indication of how particularly dance music producers look to express themselves over a series of landscapes, rather than just a brief peek into the imagination. A majority of the time, producers build up rhythms and identities through their EPs, with some straying ever so slightly from their self assessed winning formula, manipulating to the 8th degree their style in order to achieve perfection. On the other hand, many producers find a core thread that drives it all, and simply deviate from the intrinsic elements, drawing on all manner of feels, tones and genres that feed into their inner feelings to create a series of experiences that always serves up refreshment, excitement and joy. Both manners of working out your journey are entirely valid, and both always led to impressive results, a product of hard work but also the use of imagination to continually evolve all aspects of sound and vibe. To explore back catalogues is always to study and learn the journey, to see where musicians experimented, to see where things worked, where things perhaps didn't work, and perhaps it is this reflection that gives us more time to get to know them and their music. By listening to these records, we see every swerve and twist that leads up to moments like full lengths. At these points, the concept of longer means more thought, more areas to flesh out, more expansiveness, and most importantly, more time to craft new experiences through the manipulation of pre conceived boundaries. Rather than flashes in the pan, the LP remains, to some musicians, a chance to create a narrative heavy tome, with many stories to tell and re live.
In many ways, Bell Towers has mastered the concept of the EP acting as a narrative and emotional tool already. His body of work, standing at 11 EPs, reads much like a series of very hard hitting short stories than one long continuum, more so that each time he is always willing to serve up a slightly varied view of his sound, a different story perhaps for the same character who lives quite the life. His tunes vary greatly, from the deep tones of house inspired kicks, through to soft acid and techno cuts, to some excellent proto house dance floor killers, to Italo and disco edits that rank up there as some of the most inspired and instantly likeable. But even through all the styles, there is an inherent character to the music, a quirky craft that shines through, a sort of relatability to the tracks that allows for instant connections and emotive feels. A lot of his tunes retain this down to earth nature, that progresses through structures that delight and surprise in equal measure. To be able to harness these kinds of qualities within dance music is exceedingly rare, but it all just comes off quite naturally for Bell Towers. His whole discography is certainly worth a listen, but some selected highlights include 2013's deep 'Lightrail' EP; the gorgeous 'Territory' EP from 2014; the excellent 'Buro-Hahn' edit record from 2014; the weird and wonderful 'Hyper-Realised-Self' from 2015; the progression heavy 'My Body is a Temple' from 2018; and the supremely brilliant 'Ikea Hack' from 2018. Throughout his discography, Bell Towers always gone with the flow, seemingly capturing the energy of the previous release and using it sub consciously to infuse with his next effort, providing this rich thread that pulls it all together. The strengths lie with his masterful approach to tones of keys, alongside the notion of not resting on his laurels but really pushing these elements to their emotional and experimental limits, crafting worlds that overflow with vibrancy and meaning.
And now, we arrive at his debut LP, 'Juicy Blend'. To many fans, there are some instantly recognisable elements that unfold over this endlessly catchy and effortless record; the big beautiful bass lines, the considered drumming patterns, the soaring chords paired with the intricate little key lines, all of which remain as core elements to his sound and feel. However the tracks all have this sense of elevated refinement, where long drawn out progressions are replaced by concise slices of heaven that move and groove around the established elements of the sound, whilst introducing new and exciting flavours, particularly the emphasis on the spoken word 80s EBM/Man Friday style lyrics, that add a wonderful new dynamic to the music. Its all we hoped for in a Bell Towers record, as considering its his debut LP, hopes run very high for the future. So lets get into it.
The opener begins with the title track, and there is no messing around here. The key work is intricate and interlaced, opening up the world to be discovered inside. The balance between the various structures of sound is excellent, giving up so much through its style and substance. The track then introduces the first of many vocal lines, the first instance of this new dynamic in play, and it works so brilliantly. The bass underneath gives the whole track added weight, pumping away underneath all the harmonies occurring on top. The vocals flip between Chicago House stylings of the spoken verses, before shifting to the softly sung lead line, really evoking that sense of discussions from within the dance floor (deep in there). The chordal work remains charming and affectionate, a beautiful bed for the story to lay its weary body down on. What a great start. Up next comes 'Golden Wool', and here we begin with the oh so familiar smooth drumming patterns, hi hats swallowing up all underneath. Before we know, the squlech of the bass joins in with the fun, with the distant chords in the background creating a epic backdrop to proceedings. The subtle introductions of everything is characteristically Bell Towers, his light touch allowing the base elements to provide support to all the elements working on top. The high moving chords and vocal samples just add enormously, the full spectrum unravelling masterfully, from the drums through to this. Better late than never, the piano line adds some paradiso Balearic vibes, with the mood shifting from all kinds of dark rooms, red lights and tables, dancers, and people going through it all. To be able to achieve these shifts in emotional tone is a proper skill, the music able to conjure up images through its powerful sense of progression. An utter delight. 'Still Got Life' follows next, and begins off with the pounding drums giving way to a more choppy set of chords and harmonies. The vocal line cuts straight through the middle, clear as day, allowing for the real workout underneath to be emphasised and work in contrast to the clearness. The piano again works its magic, adding a real human touch to the instrumentals, as the track glides through various textural shifts, the sharp pads kicking way through from the back, to create a song filled with energy and meaning. Next comes 'Roll with Me', and we begin with the drums laying it down. The snare is effected to fuck, providing a sense of engagement with the rhythm, before it all descends deep into the night when the all encompassing vocal sample takes hold. The deep rolling chordal line then cuts through the heart, occupying a space between the vocals and the drums, creating a real sense of menace to proceedings. The line guides the tune through its many stages, rolling being the definite word here, chuggy to the point of ecstasy. A kind of full experience comes across here, the arrangement coming across a strobe of sorts, really hitting you visually in waves, but also with the pounding nature of it all. There is still time for little intricacies to come into the picture, light keys that pop their head above for just a second to add that final piece of intrigue.
'Icey Slide' comes next, that begins off quite tender but moves through its origins and into the arpeggio of godlike proportions. The bass aligns itself with it, and when it all comes together, kicks included, its majestic in its flow. As if he stirred the pot at the beginning, the track all floats together, each element occupying just the right amount of space. The relationship between the bass riff and the synth is fantastic, the manner in which the pads take time to drawn focus to the raw rub occurring underneath gives the track a tremendous sense of purpose and direction. The track continues on this flow, this narrative, a workout in the softest way possible. One for the deep night. Next comes 'Want Me (Need You)', and the bass begins us off on this one. Setting the boundaries quite wide, the key line that joins in elevates the track quickly, before moving into a series of reverbed pads, before switching back. The quick snippet vocal sample gives an indication of things to come, and before we know we have proper chatty club vocals coming straight in. The track remains at the same kind of rhythmic feel, the drums never really needing to step up, here the focus is fully on the vocal work, that becomes the primary driver to the track. Guiding all the synths and tones, it moves between the wonderful chorus work before diving down to the verses, the spoken word giving this conversational quality to the track. The backing music upbeat and precise, but really shows off Bell Tower's ability to compose. The fluidity on display is very impressive, expertly moving between various lines and arrangements, all lead by the switches between vocal blends. Next comes 'Maybe We Can Work It Out', with the bass line the opening element once again. The track gives all this space, before the vocal line comes into place. The track at this stage really emphasises these areas, allowing us to second guess what might fill up these areas. The track builds momentum at its own pace, picking things up along the way, slowly filling up the voids. The verse comes into play, the fullness now being embraced, the chordal work on point, the discussions abounding with care and emotion. A hint of regular kicks does not last, the vibes from the beginning truly acting as the bedrock of all the activity and structure for the rest of the track. Wicked. Up next comes 'Privacy', and by this point we are starting to think could there be any more inspired synth work at play? well, this one begins completely ruining that thought. The intro is gorgeous, a series of deep setting tones that paint the most vivid picture, even before the vocal work comes in. The drums take on another morphing form, bringing into play claps and junglist connotations, that works so wonderfully with the Pet Shop Boys style lyrics. The lyrics remain at their most full bodied, whereas before singular thoughts were hinted at, here we seem to get the most full on tale of a night to perhaps remember, or forget. A moment to reflect on the music, the atmosphere, the feeling of the rush. Damn. Next up we have the groove mix of the title track, and begins off with chirpy chirpy beats and tones. The soft bass line comes into play, hinting at big things to come, the soft pads weaving their way into the tapestry. The lengthy pads fill the room, washing away doubts and worries, as the track moves through the motions expertly. Its a really wonderful series of experiences, vividly set out to give us the fullest dance floor vibe as possible. The beats rhyme true, the key work is undeniable, the feel so on point. To finish things up, we have 'Broken Airblade', the slow burner that cools us off after the most fulfilling of experiences. The soft drums provide the base for lovingly curated keys and pads to do the emotional number on us one final time. A record seeped in the emotional spaces on the dance floor, this feels like the last dance, partner in hand, the lights flashing, the vibrancy toned down a bit the fire is still very much burning. A perfect manner to end it all, the vocal line perhaps taking away from that image a bit, but the chordal work gives it all back.
Dance music has narratives, it has stories, it has imagery. Sometimes they are told or painted well, other times perhaps not so much. But Bell Towers paints such a fucking vivid picture with this record, its hard to not just fall into it all and become the person we imagine in the music. A story that constantly unravels, telling its narrative through soaring musicality and honest, relatable lyrics, the record reads like a diary fuelled by first hand experience and emotional reactions. And this is sometime that certainly resonates with us, the listener, long after we have finished with it. For a debut, for a story, and as a record, it has it all. Just check it out, you might get grabbed by the hand and pulled into its brilliant, intoxicating world.
Support the troops: