Human Bell

Human Bell

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David Heumann and Nathan Bell's instrumental project Human Bell unites their strengths and styles -- fans of Heumann's Arbouretum and Bell's group Lungfish will hear shades of both acts here, though the album's atmosphere relies more on the softer sounds and relaxed tempos of Heumann's free-form compositions. Bell's contribution to the disc comes in the form of the more structured, linear riffs that provide a center for each of the works. While none of Human Bell's individual songs have obvious destinations, they seem to blend into one full composition. The songs follow the same formula -- a disjointed beginning that gels into a meandering theme -- but what makes them all exciting is listening as Heumann and Bell improvise and embellish on these established riffs without abandoning them. Subtle accompaniment from Matt Riley (guitar, banjo, kalimba, and vibraphone), Michael Turner (guitar), Peter Townsend (drums), and Ryan Rapsys (drums) add depth to the pieces, especially on opening number "A Change in Fortunes" and the unsettling "Ephaphatha (Be Opened)," where disjointed horns nearly drown out the guitar melodies. However, all of these strengths are accompanied by one main weakness -- the long and winding nature of Human Bell makes it tedious in some spots, most notably on the closer, "The Singing Trees," a reprise of "A Change in Fortunes" whose heavy, slow grind grows more ponderous as time goes on. The album's bleak sound doesn't help matters; even the brighter track "Hanging from the Rafters" drags after a while. It sounds counterintuitive, but the unconventional nature of Human Bell is the very thing that holds it back. Its extended jams highlights Heumann's and Bell's talents, but it takes lots of patience to appreciate the effort.

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