Wild Belle brings reggae into the city

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April 14, 2013

Wild Belle
Isles (Columbia Records, 2013)
Produced by Elliot Bergman and Bill Skibbe

Reviewed by Blake Morneau

Isles, the debut album from New York’s Wild Belle, accomplishes an incredible task: It bridges the gap between the seemingly disparate genres of indie-pop and roots reggae. More impressive is how the familial duo transfuses the two genres without allowing any of the winking irony often associated with the lo-fi indie movement to invade their brand of sunny, love-torn reggae music.

The first moments of the heavy dub of the opening “Keep You,” complete with wailing saxophone solo, make it clear that Wild Belle knows their reggae. It’s not until the saccharine voice of singer Natalie Bergman enters the fray that we know this is anything different from any other reggae release. Though Bergman’s voice sounds overwhelmed by the powerful dub of the opening, by the second track, “It’s Too Late,” her voice is oozing with confident glam-swagger as she bids adieu to the lover who tossed her aside.

Bergman, with her sweetly disconnected voice, is the star of this album. Whether she’s urging a prospective suitor to let down his veneer of cool in “Take Me Away,” or singing from the view of a staunch materialist in “Twisted,” (“What’s the definition of love if it isn’t material things”) Bergman’s smoky sunniness is perfectly suited to the bouncy electro-reggae that permeates the album.

It’s a blessing and a curse that Bergman’s star shines so brightly because it means that her brother, multi-instrumentalist Elliot Bergman (co-founder of Afrobeat outfit Nomo), doesn’t get as much time in front of the mic as he deserves. When he does take lead vocal duties on “When It’s Over,” he brings an earthy, rock-tone to the music reminiscent of Canadian rock hero Sam Roberts. Sitting in the last third of the album, the song offers a welcome curveball from the New York-indie vocals his sister brings.

For all the vocal talent on display, the music the Bergman siblings have crafted to complement their impressive vocals is genuinely awesome. Isles takes its name from the genre-hopping spirit of the album, with each song representing its own little sonic island. This is an album where soul, funk and acid-jazz all fit neatly into the reggae mix, creating a sonic stew equally at home in the pitch black midnight of a Friday night or on a sunny weekend morning. It’s music for the party and the hangover.

Blake Morneau is a lover of aural pleasure who has been writing about his passion for nearly two years. Follow him on Twitter @MusicRags

 

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