Review: Bell Weather Department

August 22, 2013

Sydney’s Bell Weather Department couldn’t have timed their self-titled debut more perfectly. It’s been about a minute since Oasis finally did what the world had collectively stopped caring whether or not they’d do and Jet are likewise kaput. So naturally we need another band, preferably English or at least a member of the Commonwealth, to fill the gap they left in their wake. Bell Weather Department do a fine job of this heavy task that could easily relegate their band to the status of “just another indie group.” The difference is Bell Weather know this and try hard to make their debut different from the herd.

They succeed to varying degrees though most of the time under-perform and the album becomes indistinguishable from most of the other indie currently on the market. The number one complaint against Jet while they were still a stubborn stain on the Australian music scene, was that if there’s one thing worse than wanting to be The Beatles, it’s wanting to be Oasis wanting to be The Beatles. So credit must be given to Bell Weather Department for at least sticking to the source material for their influences.

That’s not to say Bell Weather don’t bring a modern flare to their sound. They’ve paid close attention to the last ten or so years of NME covers—in some cases digging into the archives to see what was making Mojo headlines in the 80s. There’s all sorts of influences, most of them coming delivered fresh by yellow submarine from the British Isles. But there’s still shades of Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and other Yanks throughout the album.

Receivers starts off as a psychedelic shoegaze-rocker with hints of glockenspiel that’s reminiscent of Surf’s Up-era Beach Boys, before quickly turning into another indistinguishable acoustic-driven indie lament. No points for lyrics either: “Can you receive? / Can you take just a little more information? / Out in the air, there’s a whisper floating around full of information”.

There’s shades of musique concrete on the ambient and experimental Fireworks in the Moonlight. It opens with a field recording of fireworks (that I’m guessing were in the moonlight). A short, meandering reverse-guitar instrumental then ensues over a stiff electronic drum beat. A lot of the time this album really sounds more like a sound collage, than a congruous collection of 10 distinguishable songs.

The problem comes not only in the album’s derivative sound, but also in the lack of enthusiasm and personality that Bell Weather Department bring to the project. Singer Jacob Moore‘s voice, while skilled, is rather unremarkable. When he tries to add a little natural distortion on Lunar, it sounds strained and awkward. When paired with forgettable lyrics, as it most often is on this album, what are skilled vocals become simply another bland brushstroke on the sonic canvas.

There’s some definite highlights, in particular Hole in the Sky and the similar-sounding Asterisk. The former is simultaneously reminiscent of Ocean Colour Scene and Arctic Monkeys—a jaunty, bouncy number, but without any of the wit and only a fraction of the ebullience of the latter two bands. Asterisk is where the band comes as close to finding their own sound as they can. It has a chugging Road to Nowhere-like rhythm with some rather sublime chord progressions.

Moore and the rest of the boys in Bell Weather Department decided to go out into the park to fly a kite. And while their kite is colourful and tethered to an ambitiously long piece of string, it’s far too heavy, weighed down by clumsy sonic textures and clashing influences. And boy is that wind ever a bitch. Worst of all, while indeed splattered with gaudy, variegated colours of all shades and tones, it really does look a lot like every other kite in the park.

Watch: Bell Weather Department – Asterisk