A couple of weeks ago, the duo of Royal Canoe’s Matt Peters and actor and musician Tom Keenan released their first record, By Grand Central Station. The duo, calling themselves Heavy Bell, took inspiration from Elizabeth Smart’s novel, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, to create a beautiful and stirring chamber pop album that is unlike anything else I have heard. Heavy Bell has woven meticulous compositions into an album which as powerful and evocative as it is tranquil.
I have never read the book which inspired Heavy Bell, which may explain why I have some difficulty in properly stitching together the progression of the concept album. The impression that I get after listening through the record several times is that it presents various facets of love without giving any kind of real narrative. The lyrics feel connected, but I can’t really pinpoint the story they are telling. Instead, By Grand Central Station comes across as a series of emotions with no distinct direction.
As a chamber pop album, By Grand Central Station largely stays away from conventional pop instruments, instead relying on classical piano, horns, strings, guitar, and percussion. A collection of instruments like that might suggest a huge, layered sound, but in this case Heavy Bell chooses when to deploy each instrument with great care. There is never a shortage of space to let each voice breathe. Instruments are selected in order to perfectly match the tone of the music, occasionally being brought together during climactic moments. The result is an album whose sound evolves to constantly engage the listener in new ways.
If you’re looking for a calm, pensive listen, I highly recommend giving By Grand Central Station a try. They happen to be touring the album as I write, and I cannot wait to see them in Ottawa on February 3. If you see them, let me know what you think!