London based trio Belleruche, comprised of the enigmatically named Katherine De Boer, Ricky Fabulous and DJ Modest on vocals, guitar and turntables respectively, have quietly gone about fashioning quite a following for their soulful electronic sound over the course of three albums. Fourth album Rollerchain takes that sonic template and builds on it ever so slightly taking their music into far deeper and at times darker territory.
Bass music in all its forms is the dominant trend in UK electronic music in the early part of this decade. Riding on the crest of dubstep’s success and the attendant post dubstep sounds of producers like SBTRKT and Joker, Belleruche seem to have taken inspiration from some of those sounds on Rollerchain, and attempt to align those influences with their own melodic take on electro soul. It is an approach that is partly successful.
The core of Belleruche’s sound remains an organic mix of guitar, bass, drums and understated beats coalescing around the supremely soulful classy vocals of De Boer. Rollerchain adds a deep bass heavy pulse throughout and there is an enveloping night air chill that dominates.
Lead single Storm Bird features a hypnotising vocal from De Boer, which is set against some playful skittering beats. The sound is bewitchingly disorienting, as if the music is teetering on the edge of collapse. Wasted Time introduces a darker atmosphere and its muggy, harsh tones offer an intriguing counterpoint to De Boer’s warm vocals. Amidst these intense sub bass tones the rather more traditional tracks dotted around the record feel rather pedestrian in comparison. The basic guitar soul social commentary of Reach For The Bottle is underwhelming; Rollerchain is very much at its best when the band challenge themselves.
Much of the material here is focused on creating a distinct deep, brooding kind of electronica, yet they only go so far before a trad guitar line comes in and changes the mood completely. It is as if they are willing to experiment but cannot quite leave behind those more traditional roots. This gives a rather disjointed feel to some of the tracks. Cloverleaf is an excellent example; the first half of the track is based on some jittery beats and strange frequencies before everything drops out in favour of a strummed guitar line. Elsewhere, other tracks are stymied by a strummed guitar in the background that negates the progressive and interesting beats and rhythms.
Far better are the tracks where they fully embrace a direct bass heavy electro sound, such as on the warped lurch of Passenger Side and the droning Longer Days, Longer Nights which proceeds in a manner not unlike Portishead or Little Dragon, two other exponents of inventive and progressive cerebral music.
The record ends with something of a diverting curveball. Five Seconds sounds quite unlike anything else on the album. Ricky Fabulous takes over the vocals for a pounding piece of frenetic guitar rock redolent of TV On The Radio at their most propulsive. It is an incredibly rousing finish to the album but does sound rather out of place; nevertheless, it is a striking diversion.
Rollerchain is a curious listen, a progression and evolution in approach and sound that does not quite appear to have the conviction to fully embrace a slightly new direction, though it is a promising step in a subtly different direction for Belleruche.