Growing up in Chicago, Natalie and Elliot Bergman (AKA Wild Belle) had perhaps the best start in life musicians can get – parents with a good record collection. In interviews they’ve cited artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Sun-Ra and mentioned their love of roots and caribbean music. Combine this with elder sibling Elliot’s stint in Afrobeat band Nomo and the influences really start to add up. Over a year since first single ‘Keep You’ sent the music blogs into a frenzy, the duo return with Isles, their debut LP.
Unfortunately, ‘Keep You’ is perhaps the highlight of the album; its spacey, pop-dub feel and big overdriven drum sound form a solid backing for Natalie’s endearing attempt at dancehall vocals and Elliot’s wonderfully filthy saxophone. Current single ‘It’s Too Late’ continues in a similar vein but with a drier sound, rasping synth bass line and a cheesy sax solo lifted straight out of the 80s.
The focal point of Wild Belle’s sound is Natalie’s soulful but highly polished vocal delivery. Initially pleasing to the ear, it quickly grows tiresome and leaves the listener delving deeper into the lyrical content. Despite the obvious profundity of lines such as ‘Tell me what the matter is, little man/I’ve got a pretty face and I wear a nice dress’, the zeitgeist of our times is well and truly captured in ‘Happy Home’ as themes of cutting hair and taking out the rubbish are explored.
It’s this shallowness which ultimately lets the record down. All the elements for a great album are there but feel somewhat sterile and clinically pieced together. Despite the breadth of their supposed influences, most of the tunes are fairly homogenous pop reggae songs with a few other elements crowbarred in.
However, it’s impossible to completely slate this album due to its sheer catchiness. ‘Shine’ in particular is the archetypal summery pop record, with its jumpy rhythm, lush vocal harmonies and simple synth melodies thrown in every couple of bars. A refrain of ‘I’ve got a lover/He puts the shine in the sun’ rounds off the list of irresistible cliches.
Ultimately, Isles is a collection of 11 pristinely packaged pop songs and despite the album lacking in both soul and substance, one well timed single release and Wild Belle will be on the radio and in your head all summer long.By Karl Bos