Label: Arts & Crafts Link: Released: 10.03.09 I first discovered the enigmatic Bell Orchestre several years ago, when my brother picked up their debut album, Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light. I remember listening to the album once and quickly forgetting it – at the time I found it too abstract, too subtle, and too far removed from the musical reality I was accustomed too. It was so unlike anything I had ever heard before – with its focus on violin, French horn and obtuse, reverb-drenched electronics, it certainly wasn’t rock music by any stretch – and my blinkered perception of what I expected to experience clouded my initial reaction. But that was many years ago, and my tastes have unequivocally evolved and broadened since. And fortunately so, as Bell Orchestre’s sophomore album, As Seen Through Windows, is an evocative and mesmerizing work, dripping with textural density and visceral sounds. While not a tremendous departure from their debut, the album succeeds in portraying a mysterious, suggestive atmosphere of both sight and sound. The soft echo of bubbling reverb; soaring horn melodies that blossom and subside; ambient washes of sound layered among strings and percussion; lazy listeners may be goaded into classifying the collective as post-rock, ambient, or (slightly more interestingly) baroque pop, yet to me it appears as the sound of the distinct time and place of its conception, thusly defying any sort of categorization. More learned listeners will hear shades of Talk Talk, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Arcade Fire (this one unsurprising, as both groups share a handful of members), yet these influences serve only to brighten an already vivid palette. The music of Bell Orchestre elicits a very singular and distinct experience: it is at once unobtrusive and dynamic, structured and freeform, pleasant and unsettling. Above all else, it sounds natural – the sounds contained within paint portraits of environments, settings, situations, fleeting emotions, and landscapes occupying a plane somewhere between consciousness and sleep.  At times delicate and fragile, at others times harrowing and fierce, the music interacts with the listener in a way few other groups are capable. There’s an undercurrent of craftsmanship and musicality to Bell Orchestre, and of careful building and releasing that makes the listening experience evocative rather than cinematic. Take the rapturous, vibrant statement “Elephants,” which begins with the animal-like caterwaul of the French horn before steadily moving to a comfortable, violin and bass-led groove.  Or the vague, comforting ebb and flow of the title track, anchored by an intimate electronic melody that tells a different story on every listen before opening into a thundering horn and bass motif. It feels more like an extension of what already exists around you rather than a mere song. The music is a suggestion, a starting point to heightening your sensory perception of your immediate environment. As Seen Through Windows can be an exhausting experience. As a biographer for the band commented, “Bell Orchestre have not just written the music to the film, they have, by some sort of alchemy or magic, created an invisible film that only comes to life in the listening.” By the time you reach the grandiose closer, “Air Lines/Land Lines,” you’re nearly emotionally drained, especially on the first couple of listens. Yes, as with all truly great works of art, “As Seen Through Windows” takes time to understand and appreciate. Bell Orchestre achieve something quite brilliant: their sketches serve as ciphers for the listener’s imagination, opening up realms and corners of the psyche that few explore regularly. The listener becomes, almost unwittingly, an active participant in the expression, imagining both the environment and context that crafted the music as well as transcribing this experience into their one setting. It’s quite a psychedelic experience in a way, and definitely recommended for those willing to let go of their normal mental state.