Released 12 March 2013 (Columbia Records)
Michigan’s Wild Belle is comprised of singer/songwriter/producer siblings Natalie and Elliot Bergman, who just dropped their first album Iles today. Upon first listen, this album immediately declared itself fit for rotation in my cd collection (lol, cds).
In short, this is a mellow and unpredictable reggae album with splashes of sunlight and moody reflectiveness. Reggae was one of the only remaining sub-genres yet to be exploited by the indie hype machine, so it was only a matter of time before this album happened organically (and free-range and fair-trade).
The last few years have been all about democratizing African percussion and Southern blues, and the California beach scene is almost dried up (3 chord progressions with varying measures of reverb, tenor harmonies, and allusions to babes/pizza can only last so long). That leaves only a handful of warm climates for inspiration on next iPod commercial’s backing track.
So who does summer better than Jamaica? Nobody. Of course, before I listened to this album, I did muse: “These are two white twenty-somethings from Benton Harbor, what do they know about the perfect beach jam? Aren’t they still buried under snow like the rest of us?” The answer, my friend, is everything.
Let’s take a looksee.
The album opens with Keep You, a surprisingly well-paced slowjaw with squawking, declarative saxophone, a catchy reggae-inspired bassline, and classic “girl meets playa” storyline, which translate into an instant hit. Expect to hear it on every barista’s playlist in August.
Next comes It’s Too Late, which riffs on some of the ideas introduced in Keep You but decides to veer off in an independent direction, both musically and lyrically. Its strength lies in the delicate keyboard and steel pans which don’t overpower Natalie’s voice.
Shine is pure, infectious pop. With sarcastic lyrics like, “What is this? Valentine’s Day? I don’t think so,” this track does a complete 180 from the lovelorn depression expressed earlier. This is a concept album with a developing storyline that progresses gradually.
Twisted represents the best of New England prep. Expect to be reminded of Vampire Weekend’s delicious polo-shirted charms.
Love Like This slip back into moody, sullen reggae with playful male-female vocal lines. When It’s Over is the first chance we really get to see Elliot sing. Quite nice, and his voice should be featured more often. Take Me Away is lots of fun, with pulsing saxophone, cascading Autoharp, and chirpy vocals. It’s a great song that brings the album full circle.
For a first album, Iles has some great standout tracks. The middle of the album is a bit forgettable (Backslider, Happy Home) but that’s to be expected. A solid 7/10 with potential.
RIYL: Tennis, Taken By Trees, Vampire Weekend, Lissie