Ring the Belles!
With all of the SXSW buzz currently pervading the internet, it’s important to look backward and see how music has grown in the past year. Some might remember a particular band with a sound so unique, indie-rock enthusiasts’ brains were known to combust while attempting to classify the brother-sister duo. After making a splash at the festival and on Conan, Wild Belle cannonballed their way onto the scene by signing to Columbia Records and releasing a debut, Isles. Isles slams all of the first-album necessities (introducing a clear and distinct sound, showing their influences, showcasing something new) in addition to setting new standards for emerging rock bands.
Imagine a fictional world where Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen have a musical lovechild. Their offspring, their smooth-sexy spawn, would be Natalie Bergman, WB’s vocalist. Throughout Isles, her alto tells tales of the throes of young adulthood: cheating lovers, sudden infatuation, friendship and the darkness that constantly haunts this process of growing up. Elliot Bergman lends his voice, too, and joins his on a number of instruments, including saxophone and keyboard. Together, the Chicago natives create a psychedelic, dancey reggae rock sound that can play poppy tunes and soulful ballads with equal care and skill.
“Keep You” and “It’s Too Late” are the first two tracks on the record and Wild Belle’s biggest hits. Both demonstrate the band’s preference for reggae rhythms, utilizing the guitar’s bottom strings for all their worth. Elliot even provides a funky sax solo on “It’s Too Late,” showing that WB is more than a cutesy sibling shtick.
“Twisted” deserves as much attention as the singles—it’s a story of that messed-up kid everyone dates, whose charm is at odds with his snarky, selfish ways. With a Vampire Weekend-esque drum beat that’s relentless and heavy on the snare, the track allows Natalie to show off her higher register. Plenty of catchy “ooh”s to be had here, and she leaves listeners pondering this warped character, caught on the last line: “What is love if it isn’t material things?”
Though Wild Belle loves to groove, Isles shows their ability to tackle mature themes. The droning “Happy Home” suggests complex familial circumstances, as does the ironically upbeat “June,” in which summertime sunshine is blocked by “dark clouds,” apparently representing the death of a family member. This record does everything that it needs to do for a young band like Wild Belle, but they’ve set the bar high for themselves. Luckily, with a sound so distinct and strange, Wild Belle has plenty of room to play.