The Bell Beat’s “Our Manderley” Review

By August Smith

Detroit’s The Bell Beat (before, branded “Sh! The Octopus”) began as the band of Randy Bishop in 2003 and, bringing in Joel Pearson, Chris Sesta, and Andy Stachowiak, bestowed The Carrot Chase before bystanders in 2007. Bloggers buzzed about the bouquet of songs, about how the album bared the basest of being and emotion in each piece, banjos and Dobro strings alight with breathtaking beauty, bouncing off boyish vocals and the brawn of American rock. The Bell Beat, not taking a break after the critical blessing of album number one, brought in Marina Trejo, and now aim to strum and sing their way into the bottoms of our hearts with Our Manderley.

(Note: here is where I stop the “b” gimmick because it’s harder than it looks.)

Also note the timely connection: the album opens with “The New Year,” a riff-driven organ-powered shuffle that showcases some of The Bell Beat’s most obvious strengths- smooth floatation between girl/boy vocals, call and answer stanzas, and a catchiness that sort of sneaks up on you, forcing you to hum the songs out of your skull for the rest of the day. “A Herring Overhead”, an album highlight, shows just how well the group has mastered these vocal tricks. Randy Bishop’s voice drives onward with the rest of the music whilst Trejo’s soft and hushed backing vocals stab and echo certain words, her keyboard highlighting the breaks of silence in the chorus. The whole album is like this: poppy, folky, and a sprinkle of indie rock, three genres explicitly intended but never forced. “Cheating at Grief” is an example of The Bell Beat’s weirder, more psychedelic edge, with its sparse instrumentation and use of backtracking for some type of percussion. Speaking of instrumentation, banjo, Rhodes/Hammond organ, piano and acoustic guitar are all fair game on Our Manderley.

Also, quick side note, The Bell Beat is, to put it bluntly, a really cool band. Not content with the same-ol’ concert style of five people play music as X amount of people watch, The Bell Beat incorporates audience participation in the form of the “Sh! Mob.” During the band’s performance, audience members can text or tweet images to a constantly-evolving media slideshow projected on the wall as the band plays through their catchy wrapped presents of Americana pop tunes. Also cool: at the upcoming release show of Our Manderley (Jan. 29th at Berkley Front), a band-branded limited edition beer will be available for show-goers: Our Manderale.

Our Manderley is definitely a spring album, rife with folk tunes cheery enough to melt the ice while deeply threaded with the nostalgia and longing that feels so appropriate during these months. Check out the band’s website for more information, and watch a delightful music video below!