Bella Simone

(Self-released; 2006)

By Conrad Amenta | 21 February 2008

Every band I've been in has stunk. Fun to play in, yes; impressive to watch for the few friends who don't play instruments and can't detect the fuck-ups, perhaps. But a genuinely good band, a band whose music will make people change their plans to be in its presence, that maybe even makes other bands in the same scene better -- not as such, no. Naturally envision the soul-crushing jealousy I experience of musicians whose most central outlet (because they are in many good bands) is so universally understood as "oh, they're fucking great." Imagine it changing, morphing into offended disbelief that any such band isn't signed; the discrimination of every song I find uninteresting suddenly turned into a stab at a band as purely enjoyable as the HILOTRONS.

Comprised of Ottawa mainstays and local veterans, what's made most remarkable by the experience of the band's five members is the particular brand of unpretentious, straightforward New Wave pop that they play. Bella Simone, the band's sophomore outing after a similarly accessible, self-titled debut, breezes across the course of its fifteen tracks with the unimpeded fluidity of a meticulously assembled dance mix, weaving seemingly simple Cherry Coke melodies into production values and song-writing shifts that underline the band's varied knowledge of its craft. The HILOTRONS aren't making claim to undiscovered countries. If there were any justice they'd be taking over this one.

The album's opening trifecta interweaves broad-stroked keyboards with the careful, detailed picking of Paul Hogan's guitar. It's an interesting Odd Couple-ling, and one that could very well have relegated the band to the peripheries of gimmickry, but the move defines the band's sound while simultaneously elevating them from New Wave imitators to tributaries. Though the melodies are the spectacle of the band attraction, it's the masterful and knowing production, and the way it marries the band's two defining elements, that will draw in the music nerds. The guitar throughout "Look, Wow" and "Should've Come Over" echoes with Buggles reverb while Michael John Dubue growls and mash-potatoes through his self-styled landscape of robots and pillow fights. "Up in Your Space" jives with the unapologetic seriousness of pop, which admits that a relationship that is sung about is, at that moment, the only important relationship on the planet. "Astroman" and "Born a Dancer," for all their intentional silliness, see each member's contribution interlocking into sleek, economic powerhouses without wasted moments. The album's title track shimmers through its many moods, tip-toeing gingerly across the water one minute and re-establishing its 4/4 stomp the next. If there is a line that exists between local acts recording on friends' laptops, hoping to sell enough CD-Rs to fund a small tour, and a band truly capable of playing monster shows nightly, Bella Simone is evidence that the HILOTRONS have crossed it.

The success of Bella Simone can be measured by how quickly it will become a part of your daily listening, or by the number of people at the band's shows who dutifully sing along with each of Dubue's absurdist fantasies. But, ultimately, it's the unquantifiable that best expresses the separation of one band from the rest of its pack. New Wave's students are legion, and HILOTRONS' musical goals the same, but there is something that strikes in the album's early moments that says if I could be in a band this good only once, I'd consider my work done.