Wild Belle - Isles

Wild Belle shakes up the indie music scene with a tropical sound and a helping of saxophone.

Additional Info

7.5

ALBUM: Isles

ARTIST: Wild Belle

2013

Pop

The Bergman siblings, Natalie and Elliot, are an infectious duo with style and class straight out of the 60’s. As Wild Belle, they made a name for themselves and reinvented the indie pop scene with heavy island reggae influences. They are a dynamic combination that’s both bubbly and enticing. Their album is a breath of fresh air, poignantly entitled Isles (2013) because, as Natalie says, every song on it exists as its own island of a story. Natalie’s soulful voice is often layered on top of itself often on the tracks, harmonizing with both herself and her brother.

Growing up in a loving family from Chicago, Elliot and Natalie shared music in their teens, inadvertently sculpting each other’s tastes: “[Elliot] sort of turned me on to jazz music and West African music, and it’s helped me find my own path,” Natalie told InterviewMagazine. “He gave me a good core of world music to listen to, and my mother gave me, and my dad gave me a nice door to roots music — roots, soul folk — and Africa and other regions of the Caribbean. And so you have a lot of influences combined, but I hope that in the record you can hear the different world of sounds.”

They played instruments in their youth, and at age fifteen Natalia casually played around with a tambourine and sang backup vocals in Elliot’s Afro beat band Nomo. The Bergman siblings honed each others ears, older brother showing younger sister the ropes of the music industry. Eight years later, Wild Belle’s authentic island-blues album stands out as an instant success because it reflects their individuality: from memory they incorporate sounds and instruments from around the globe, making their first album, Isles.

Lyrically, Wild Belle’s piercing content in Isles is a diary on romantic relationships. Natalie attributes the album’s content to a broken heart, some brief mistakes, and a sorrow that is “beyond heartbreak.” The catchy lyrics often touch upon the loss of love, the lack of romance in today’s day and age, and competition with other women. They are based on Natalie’s personal experiences, and boy, does her love life fluctuate! The album sounds young, but not inexperienced. It’s light, and finds its anchor in the lyrical rhythm. Elliot’s generous saxophone accompaniments steer this album away from seeming too Lana Del Rey-gone reggae, adding a bit of class to their beach-y, indie feel.

While maybe not living up to their self nomenclature of “Wild,” the Bergman duo has created a collection that you can cozy up to or dance along with. It’s airy, layered tunes leave some gaps in dimension along the way, but, then again, it lends itself to a more expansive application. As a first album for a pair of twenty-somethings, Isles is a job well done with plenty of room to grow.

“What’s the definition of love if it isn’t material things?”

1. Keep You
The tune is jazzy and smooth; Elliot’s sultry saxophone accompaniment creates visions of a smokey bar in Harlem. It shines a light on the circumstances of blooming relationships among couples. The feeling of “Robbed me twice and I keep coming back" resonates with Wild Belle’s hip, young audience because it’s echoed off every high school wall and dorm room. The universal predicament levels the field and opens Isles up to increased relatability. The music video accompaniment throws the song into an entirely different conceptual space. Natalie serenades a man-child in Jamaica, a figure director Melina Matsoukas brought to life especially for “Keep You.”8.8
2. It's Too Late
The funky intro sounds like a Sublime song with it’s punk rock vibe. Natalie turns a cold shoulder to her lover, “Now that you want me it’s too late” she breathes. Then, her smooth voice is echoed back and forth, harmonizing with herself. As if a follow up to “Keep You,” now the vocalist knows what she’s worth. “When you had me you must have been blind […] I need a man that treats me right/ He’ll feed me supper every night.” Such a strong affirmation of self worth is refreshing, especially on an album with such a heavy reliance on the trials romance and relationships.8.5
3. Shine
The introduction pumps an upbeat, island jam that sounds like it comes out of a tin can. Making this pop-rock ballad their own, “Shine” is both upbeat and soulful. The lyrics cast the female voice in a strong tone not heard in many of the other tracks. The airy chorus “I’ve got a lover/he puts the shine in the sun,” is sweet and innocent, contrasting with her dismissal of the old memory of another. Elliot’s saxophone cools it on the swagger, sounding much more reserved and staccato, giving the song a sweet, sunny disposition, proving it aptly titled. The positivity here is remarkable compared to the majority of the album.8.0
4. Twisted
The opening is as sweet as a lullaby, but the words paint a depressing picture if you’re paying attention. Again, Wild Belle laments romantic problems, but her vocal quality saves the energy from falling too low. The funk feel and chanted vocals are stolen from the mood of Elliot’s Afrobeat band, Nomo. Natalie leaves the listener with, “What’s the definition of love if it isn’t material things?” at the close of a stanza, sounding both cliche yet highly accurate. She references her diamond ring, a convertible, and the car radio that brings the couple into the depths of an argument, definitely feeling the pains of first world problems.7.5
5. Backslider
Moving away from the album’s initial reggae vibe, this track is delivered in a more serious tone packing serious poetic value. The beat and refrain are catchy, and the melody has an impressive vocal range. Calling out the “backsliders” and “capturers” of the world, the song blatantly relays an accurate portrayal on the lack of respect between some couples today. “My babe/ Guess he could stand a little cheatin’/ because his heart is made of stone.” Her catty taunting is emphasized throughout the album, but here it comes across as a bit immature, but over all “Backslider” is a listen-worthy jam.7.8
6. Happy Home
This track is a lamentation of the dysfunctional family, a concept that appears foreign to the Bergmans when they discuss home life in interviews. Nevertheless, “Is this a happy home?” Natalie cries, her voice as sweet and slow as molasses. Taking up an entirely somber tone now, the track drags its feet with petty arguments of, “I ain’t gonna’ cut my hair/ even if you say.” As the disagreements build line after line, Wild Belle feels a bit detached from its listeners with the random, personal references such as this. Following up after “Backslider”, the woes of this chicks love life lack the dramatic luster they initially offered.6.5
7. Another Girl
“Another girl” is sultry, sexy, and straightforward. A confession made in the midnight hours, Natalie really showcases her vocal range here. The Wild Belle takes up the despairing tone she’s so familiar with. Accompanied by a simple baseline, her vocals flit smoothly across the scale. With no saxophone here, the song feels emptier in comparison, but not lacking. Natalie’s raspy music causes visions of an old fashioned burlesque solo.8.0
8. Love Like This
Very similar to “Keep You,” the island influences are strong on this track. The familiar subject of a dangerous love comes back with Natalie second guessing the honesty in her life. She bounces to a complimentary refrain of “I like your style/ I like your smile/[…] We can go anywhere you want to.” The message gets muddled and complicated among the scattered emotional references, leaving me wondering, “Why do you think he’s so dangerous?”7.6
9. When It's Over
A personal favorite, this track features a swap with Elliot on the main vocals, with sister in the background, reminiscent of their early performing years. It’s a relief for the eardrums to get away from the audible similarities of tracks 1-6. The story described within the lyrics is a relatable love song once again. Elliot watches an ex start up a relationship with someone whom can’t possibly measure up to what she deserves. Or he. The song has a great ambiguity where the lover’s gender isn’t specified, making it applicable to all relationships. In fact, Natalie wrote the song about her own personal past, but decided her brother should be the one to perform it instead.8.0
10. June
I struggled to find the lyrics and video for this song, attesting to its lack of popularity in the mainstream, unlike the album opener “Keep You.” This track fades into the tropical pop scene that’s been developed over the course of Isles. “June”’s only individuality distinguishing it from the rest of Wild Belle’s tracks is the bopping New Orleans-style jazz intro. “June”’s lyrical substance comes across as a privileged recitation of summer beaches with family. It’s not that this is a bad song, but by the time the listener approaches it on the album, they’ve already gotten their indie island fix.6.0
11. Take Me Away
A wise choice as the albums closer, this track leans more towards pop than reggae, rocksteady, or jazz, adding a needed diversion from the previous island beats. Keeping up with their same pace, Wild Belle’s finer, old fashioned characteristics shine through here. It’s nice to hear something as bold and vulnerable as “I don’t know you/ but I want to get to know you,” come out of Natalie’s mouth. Maybe there is hope she’ll find a successful, mature encounter to sing about next time around.8.0
Written by Shelby Tatomir
Reading and writing are my roots, making music, design, and photography sprouting branches of special interests that I am always striving to cultivate.



comments powered by Disqus
Tagged under

News

Watch!

Listen