Belly of Paris may well be the ultimate international collective. Based in Bahrain and bringing together musicians from India, Argentina, Palestine, Hungary, UK, and Bahrain (of course), the band takes its name from a book by French novelist Emile Zola. Frontman and founder Daniel Cochran admits to a fondness for great French novelists, and his move from Yorkshire to the Middle East provided time to catch up with Zola's epic Rougon Macquart cycle, so the band were born from immersion in 19th Century fiction and released their debut album Peste on 4 November.
Opening up with "Aristide's Entry Into Paris" reveals the band's global influences. Could it be a Tango? Paso? Jazz? Whatever takes your fancy, if you like a bit of drama in your music, Cochran's rich and slightly sinister vocals deliver. Changes of tempo, elusive fragments of story-telling and accomplished musicianship create a compelling composition - arrogant yet accessible. Scratch the surface and I'm pretty sure they're having fun, too.
Continuing the fun, Belly of Paris bring us "There Was No Snake". At least the tempo suggests fun. Wild, party-style, dancing-in-the-street fun. But the lyrics are darker "the cold earth can't care...how many skinny children you bury inside it" - and check out the brass counter-melody, strong yet yielding. Want to know where this song is going? Follow the horns.
Lovers of medieval weaponry will be thrilled to find a track titled "Conyers Falchion", telling the story of Sir John Conyers slaying of the Sockburn Worm. This is no tiny little garden variety of worm - they grew much bigger in 11th Century Durham. Sockburn's was more of a dragon, requiring a substantial blade to dispatch it. Cochran draws on his North-East England heritage to re-tell this story with pace and vigor that John Conyers would be proud to inhabit. Listen out for church-organ dischords, a clever musical reminder that the Falchion rests in Durham Cathedral.
Bringing the pace down, "Hometown Kick" tells a story of displacement against an all-too-familiar backdrop of burning tyres, hidden hunger and "a hole to crawl inside". Controlled and firm, Cochran's vocals layered onto minimalist keys, convey ranging emotion with barely a hint of dynamic. This is serious music that demands a careful listening. The theme continues through "Cable Coming", with dystopian arrangements and frantic energy, building through traveling rhythms to an all-engulfing tsunami of sound. The album's name appealed to the band because it "summed up this creeping plague of hate and fear that's enveloping the world". These tracks ensure that we get it.
"Great Preserver" transports us to a fairground with pipe organ and puppet-tapping feet, but we're not there for long. Moving through odes to snowflakes and wintery night storms to a finale of percussive chants, this track alone lays out the operatic proportions of Belly of Paris's songscape. As though requiring vocal rest, "Hechizado" opens with an instrumental intro that smacks of sci-fi picking up a rock beat. Psychedelia wraps around brass before adopting a jazz-mass, which teases Cochran's vocals into constant juxtaposition. Yasmin Sharabi adds vocal twists to top off this spellbinding arrangement.
However cosmopolitan and multi-cultural a cloth of sound Belly of Paris weaves for us, Daniel Cochran's northern roots surface periodically. Nowhere more so than in the flat-vowelled gypsy-punk of "Macie Shot The Barn Owl". You can take the man out of Saltburn-on-Sea, but you can't take Saltburn out of the man, and any self-respecting Yorkshireman will appreciate the venom of "Autumn was a Bastard". Especially if they like their rock raw and unsophisticated, but with a side order of blues.
Take a beat before diving into the jazz-bar louche that is "Stalking Bird". Versatile doesn't begin to define the mood-switch between tracks. This deserves a moment to sit back and inhale the laid-back layers of melody, then allow the harmony to wash over in waves as Cochran and Sharabi blend vocals over soft electro.
"Boys" closes the album with an anthem borne on chords and strings, hinting at gospel over military snare. If Belly of Paris need a festival song, this is the one to have the crowd in the palm of their hands to the chant of "what she's got". Catching the band live right now requires a trip to Dubai, Qatar, Beirut, or Bahrain, although Daniel Cochran hints at some solo UK dates soon. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for more info.
Belly of Paris are Daniel Cochran (vocals/guitar/chord organ), Szabolcs Nigo (trumpet/bassoon), Robert Prest (guitars), Yasmin Sharabi (vocals/synth/piano), Sumit Sharma (drums), and Carlos Villarroel (bass).
Peste was released on Museland Records on 4 November. Order your copy here.
First published on Angry Baby
Image courtesy of Belly of Paris