Show Review: Bells & Parks @ Holy Mountain

bellsandparkVersailles, the ambitious and aptly titled EP of Austin new comer Bells and Parks, strives to create the detailed soundscapes and layers reflective of their self appointed Baroque/Dream Pop genre. A follow up to to the March 13th single “Streams”, Versailles is executed with the focus that was missing from the group’s freshmen effort. While “Streams” sounds like the excited songwriting effort of a new Micro-Korg owner, Versailles is more contained and thought out, with mature use of synth layers to inform the songwriter’s vision rather than overwhelm it.

The EP is a collabartion with the musical mind behind local favorite Young Tongue, Stu Baker.Even though Produced by Stu Baker’s strong musical voice, Versailles manages to escape the trappings of many “celebrity produced” albums. While the instrumentation and backing tracks reflect the driving power of Young Tongue, vocal and lyrical lead Tessa Bennetch’s unique and powerful voice shines through to produce a fresh artistic vision. Her voice, comfortably moving from an Alto range to airy falsetto, break’s through the lush layers of her synth playing. This EP does not lack in vocal and melodic interest. While it is easy for bands to lose their hooks to thick reverb and over saturated backing synth pads, Stu and Tessa create a well balanced sonic palate on Versailles. Indie rock lovers will appreciate the heavy guitar hook on 2153, while dream pop lovers will gravitate to the tasteful use pads, space, and reverb heavy tracks Indienne and Edie and the Indigo Kite.

I was able to catch Bells and Parks at their show at Holy Mountain on Friday April 11th. I had been eagerly anticipating Bells and Parks live performance since I first heard Versailles, however my enthusiasm was curbed when I learned that Bells and Parks had recently lost two of their live show band members. Bells and Parks’ current instrumentation consists of songwriter and lead vocalist Tessa Bennetch, drummer Daryl Schomberg (also of Young Tongue), and of course the ever present stalwart of almost every electronically minded musical acts these days, backing tracks.

The show had a slow start, after an even slower sound check. While reverb plays a prominent role in this bands musical presentation, nothing sucks the energy out of a venue like waiting an extra 10-15 minutes to dial a vocal effect.

Once the show got under way, Bells and Parks admirably held their own with the more minimalist line up. There were a few hiccups in the backing tracks, a few loops that didn’t quite start, and some moments of mixing missteps (most noticeable when a song was started, stopped, and restarted due to a totally muted vocal mic). I always find myself watching backing track bands with baited breath, especially when I know the band is a little green on stage. It is too easy for loops to get away from you, to lose the unforgiving tempo of the pre recorded drum beat, or to find yourself totally off key of the pre recorded harmonies due to inadequate monitor mixes. Darryl’s unmoving tempo and Tessa’s unshakeable confidence carried the show through through the few hiccups.

I have to admit I did miss the sonic palate that is so present and identifiable in Versailles. The sound on stage didn’t quite catch the detail and separation of tracks that makes it such an enjoyable EP. The melodic hooks that move back and forth between lead synth and guitar on the EP were buried, and almost non existent during the show. The lush pads and driving percussion beats were still recognizable, but what sets Bells and Parks apart from other indie electronica/dream pop acts is their well defined melodic features. Even the visual component of the show, a projected iTunes style visualizer, was a broad stroke that made it almost easier to lose focus on the music then it enhanced the performance.

There is a lot of musical potential in this act, but for now Bells and Parks does their best work in the recording and writing phase. Nonetheless, I will be keeping my eye on this band for future performances. Bells and Parks next show is at Holy Mountain on May 15th. You can listen to them anytime on their bandcamp page.

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