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A review of...
Peste by Belly of Paris
Belly of Paris deliver a party album for the apocalypse
Belly of Paris is a band formed in Bahrain by Daniel Cochran, a Teesside exile and ex-frontman of By Toutatis and Idiot Savant. They seem to be a ragtag bunch, from various locations (they are self-described as Anglo-Indo-Argentine-Palestinian-Hungarian), playing various styles (jazz, rock, baroque etc), but they've come together to make an album which revels in the darker side of life. The lyrics are deliciously pitch black but playful, steeped in literature and myth, but also perfectly relevant to the modern world (the looming spectre of post-brexit nationalism seems like a recurring theme). The music is the foil to this darkness, reminding us that there is still some light and joy to be had and much of this is down to Szabolcs Nigo's brass work (trumpet and bassoon), which often lifts the band into borderline party mode (think New Orleans funeral march, not Black Lace). Maybe Peste could be seen as the jazz funeral to 2016, a fitting and welcome send off.
Opening track "Aristide's Entry Into Paris" sounds like The Doors in their more flamboyant/cabaret phase ("Touch Me" seems like the most appropriate reference point, peak Doors in my humble opinion). This is probably due to Cochran's trademark baritone singing voice which only seems to have improved over the years, but it's also down to the way the song keeps changing pace, keeps you on your toes, especially if you decide to have a little dance, which would be perfectly understandable. Again, the trumpet adds a vital extra element that's been missing from Cochran's earlier work and really suits the smokey, seedy world that the lyrics evoke. "Cable Coming" hits you like a mini musical, it's theatrical trip around the genres, starting off like a shoegaze dirge, before delving into pirate haven shanty and ending in a cacophonous heap. Special mention at this point should go to Yasmin Sharabi, who as well as providing piano, keyboard and xylophone, also adds steady and subtle co-vocals to many of the LPs high points.
For me, if there's one minor complaint with Peste, it's that the production is sometimes a bit crisp and clinical, and seems to sit in contrast to the band's dusty, bar-room style (although I have just taken delivery of the vinyl pressing which seems much more balanced, yet another pro for splashing out on the 12"). Overall though, Peste is an inspired and thoughtful record which sounds like it would transition well onto big stages around the world. Whether anyone outside the Bahrain or the Middle East will get to hear it live is another matter, so for now just be glad you've got the album.
"Conyers Falchion" - sung in tandem by Daniel Cochran and Yasmin Sharabi, this track also has a real monstrous intensity which seems to come from absolutely nowhere, in the end disintegrating under its own weight. A standout track. mainly because it's quite different to most of the songs on Peste, but also because it's very good indeed.
"Boys" - the best is saved til last (I feel that this should always be the way). Cochran's chord organ takes welcome centre stage on a heartsick but hopeful ballad which should surely go down as one of the very best tracks of the year.