In these hyper-connected times we’re living in, it’s rare for a band to emerge from seemingly nowhere, with no biographical baggage, no superficial hype and no expectation – and yet utterly astound you with their music. This much I know about Chimes & Bells: they’re a Danish quartet, and their debut EP Into Pieces of Wood marks them out as the best new band I’ve heard this year.
It may be that Scandinavians are more adept at sidestepping the public parade of the music business, or it may just be that Chimes & Bells are still undiscovered. At the time of writing they had a mere ten listeners on Last.FM, there were only a few, non-descript photos on their MySpace, and on Google the band itself is buried beneath an impenetrable layer of tacky e-commerce sites for wind chimes and door bells.
So that leaves the music and the music alone. Not to discourage anyone from the start, but it’s unremittingly slow, brooding and bleak; the four tracks that constitute this EP all last more than five minutes, and are all dirge-like in quality. But there’s an allure to Chimes & Bells; a ghostly glint that illuminates the darkness of their sound world, best captured in a line they borrow from Leonard Cohen on opener ‘Stand Still’: “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”
They follow this with the title track ‘Into Pieces of Wood’, and with its dragging, clanging, adagio-paced guitar track, it’s what Mogwai and Death in Vegas would sound like if they had ever collaborated. ‘Golden Sweater’ meanwhile is a haunting amalgam of lazy cello, Velvet Underground drone, and the keynote feature of their sound: vocal harmonies that don’t quite square up, leaving a phantom echo hanging in the air. The tone changes on ‘You Shall Not Pass’, with its line “I will plaster you to the floor.” Thus it could quite conceivably be the tale of a brutish doorman’s aggression, were it not for the song itself, which is like an especially downbeat Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Despite everything I’ve said, this isn’t a depressing record. Instead it possesses the kind of grim beauty and far-flung ambition that surpasses all the half-baked hype in the world. For now, Chimes & Bells are a mirage, both in reputation and style. Enjoy the mystique while you can.