Hurricane Bells: Tides and Tales

[1 November 2011]

By Matt Edsall

Steve Schiltz, the mastermind behind NYC project Hurricane Bells, apparently slaved over this recording, mentioning in a press release that he was “inspired by Jack White’s rule of self-imposed limitations,” so he worked to make every flare perfect. And on songs such as the most-likely singles “Possibilities” and “Let’s Go,” he shows off a little more firepower this second go-around, adding some hard-hitting electronica to the mix, but for the most part, Tides and Tales suffers from the same hazy boredom as 2009’s debut, Tonight Is the Ghost, pouring dreamy guitar over Cure-like bass for almost the entirety of the album, which acts more like a droning professor than a lullaby as it lures the listener to sleep. And it makes one wonder: if this is Schiltz slaving away, then what are we in for when he gets lazy?

There’s a reason why the album comes off as so underwhelming: the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack. Hurricane Bells was lucky enough (or at least it seemed so) to be included on the hit series with its Tonight Is the Ghost b-side, “Monsters.” One of the loudest songs of the collection, “Monsters” hit as hard as a My Morning Jacket track, with its opening fuzz hammer-on and guitar squeal, and it set new fans of the band to believe that this was the band’s sound, only to surprise them when they downloaded Tonight Is the Ghost and found it was a much quieter (and less exciting) record than “Monsters” originally prepared them for.

So it’s only all the more disappointing that two years later, Schiltz didn’t delve deeper into new territory after putting out such a breakthrough hit on a Platinum-selling soundtrack. The opening track teases us with the same kind of beginning that “Monsters” supplied, reverberating amp feedback over a watery guitar, but it soon cuts out and is replaced with sad piano for the remaining two minutes, and that sadness continues for the majority of the album. Minus the lo-fi promises of “Possibilities,” “Let’s Go,” and the Simon and Garfunkel-esque “The Ghost of Her,” Tides and Tales reverts to the same tone Tonight Is the Ghost originally supplied, lacking bridges and crescendos and instead riding two-note guitar riffs over a droning percussion beat (such as on “Before I’m Gone”) or dwelling on five-minute acoustic meanderings (such as on “Flowers In the Dirt”).

Schiltz told the press that he viewed this album as “a leap ahead sonically,” but it doesn’t seem like any leap been taken. If anything, the New Yorker has taken a lateral step with Tides and Tales, plays like a sequel to its predecessor even though no trilogy was intended as an artistic device. Claiming to have written the album in a two-week stretch of isolation while trying to “write on different instruments each day, no other reason than to change it up,” Schiltz hardly changed at all. It’s normal for a Twilight song to be the most memorable to the public ear, but it’s unfortunate when after two albums, it’s the only thing worth remembering about you.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/150285-hurricane-bells-tides-and-tales/