Album Review: ‘Iles’ by Wild Belle

WildBelle

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).

Although I wasn’t one of the lucky ones to stream the album early, I was able to listen to all eleven tracks on Line Of Best Fit and Exclaim a week early.

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

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Album Review: Seeds Grown Here by Parks & Rec

After releasing their self-titled EP in 2010, Toronto’s Parks & Rec has worked hard to bring a new batch of songs in their new album, Seeds Grown Here (2011). When the band sent me an advance copy of the album, I decided to do a track-by-track review on MBF. So, listen along to each track as you read!

    1. In A Plateau is a bedroom ballad that doesn’t really serve to jump-start the album. It’s like the last lazy weekend at the cottage; sluggish, reluctant to leave, but tinged with memories of summertime. Would have been more effective if placed closer to the end of the tracklisting. Rating: 6/10

    2. All These Lives Collide is a track built for driving too fast down the highway on an overbright Saturday morning on the way to your friend’s house. You’re excited to get there, so you take your turns too sharply, and at such high speeds, the wind makes the chassis sway like a waltz. The rapid and eager nodding of your head makes focusing on oncoming traffic slightly problematic. Rating: 8/10

    3. The soft opening of Homeless Gardeners creeps under your skin like a story you hear on the news that follows you around all day. Suprisingly, it opens up into a warm crashing of drums that rides into something wonderfully evocative – right before dwindling down into softness again. This juxtaposition between exaultant and peaceful makes for a playful auditory puzzle both toe-tapping and reflective. Rating: 7.5/10

    4. Let’s Get Carried Away channels an impatient air at the beginning while it waits to pick up. The delightful release of tinkling guitar comes forty seconds in, and you’ll be glad you waited. If only it retained that feeling for the rest of the song. Rating: 7/10

    5. Light Up The Night a bit folksier, without straying into campfire-song territory. Since it utilizes an almost identical theme as Let’s Get Carried Away, even down to the same key signature, it feels like an unofficial part 2. For this, I’m giving it an identical score. Rating: 7/10

    6. Get By‘s choral opening is, for lack of a better word, noble. It will make you take notice. This song is full of numerous different tempos and musical ideas, and while it doesn’t exactly suffer from this, it would have been nice to hear a few of them explored in a more intimate, thoroughly-paced way. Rating: 7.5

    7. Lost And Found is the final track on Seeds Grown Here, and it’s a bold choice to end the album quietly. Slightly more relaxed and introspective, it feels like viewing grainy footage of a fluttering autumn leaf as filmed by a Betamax. A good way to end things. Rating: 7.5

    KATIE’S FINAL THOUGHTS: Seeds Grown Here is a solid album with a few great ideas. At times, it feels like the overzealous sophamore eager to prove themselves to the group. Although none of the songs can be labeled as breathtaking on their own, several moments on the album are breathtaking on their own. Parks & Rec have seen greatness and spiked the musical punch of Seeds Grown Here with it, and now it’s up to them to pour in the whole mickey on their next album.

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