Wild Belle brother and sister Chicago-based pairing Natalie and Elliot Bergman have been doing the promotional rounds in rather select places. Featuring in assorted fashion magazines, they both look wonderfully photogenic, especially when dressed up in Tory Burch and Burberry. They do moody very well and Elliot’s beard is impressively well kept.
In one interview, coincidentally for American magazine and influential Andy Warhol creation, Interview, Natalie said their debut album Isles got its name “because each song is its own island, and each song has its own story”. In addition, the duo discussed their encounter with Damien Hirst at some 24-hour art do in Miami, with Elliot describing him “as a real dude”, while also talking about his precocious love of The Beatles and Miles Davis – “parent music” – while everyone else listened to The Offspring. Apparently.
The interviews and overall presentation of Wild Belle have helped construct an image of a smart and stylish duo touted as new stars for the hipster generation, while also being pitched as a hybrid of retro pop, jazz and reggae. However, like some of Hirst’s art – and most hipsters in general – Isles is rather repetitive and insipid.
Indeed, while the album is described as a myriad of styles, there’s nothing to really demonstrate this: only the reggae and reggae-related genres are consistently and tiresomely reflected. Album opener Keep You has that typically languid, heavy dub sound with its slack bass, resonating guitar and touches of blasts of ska-like horns; It’s Too Late carries on the skaesque tones with its skank guitar rhythms, while later tracks Love Like This and June carry the same slow-moving beats and rhythms as Keep You. In turn, a lot of the album sounds mundane and turgid, with many tracks feeling a lot longer than three-to-four minutes. Only the odd hints of synth and the occasional lo-fi loops bring some brief vigour and spark.
There are some moments of variation and, to be fair, promise. Shine in the Sun has a stylish swagger reminiscent of The Fiery Furnaces with saxophone bringing a funk-type edge, while Twisted brings a more calypso feel the album, with Natalie’s vocal – somewhat reminiscent of Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast – working particularly well when coupled with Elliot’s backing vocal. Indeed, When It’s Over, with big brother Elliot on lead vocals, veers entirely away from the reggae vibe, instead veering towards gentle yet upbeat indie pop. It works well. Nevertheless, the jarring shifts back to the dub and reggae erases any traits of variation the record has – to its disadvantage, it dominates.
Which is why the suggestion that the record is a hybrid of styles is irritatingly misleading: retro pop? Jazz? These aren’t clear whatsoever: just because there are spots of horn dotted throughout, that doesn’t make it jazz. As for retro pop, there is nothing that harks back to Motown. Indeed, does it mean Motown? Or does it mean the 1980s? Come to think of it, last year could be seen as retro nowadays. Either way, what we have here are buzzwords, trying to do the job of a fashion magazine stylist.
As for each song being an individual island, then they’re all certainly shaped like stereotypical tales of love and relationships: from describing someone’s love “as wild, as dangerous” on Love Like This and being on the end of a two-timing boyfriend with Just Another Girl, to attempting to play the defiant woman with It’s Too Late and the hard to get with Take Me Away. Again, it all adds to the album’s sense of tedium. Much like the fashions and trends shown in the magazines touting Wild Belle, you wonder whether anyone will take any notice of Wild Belle in a year’s time. We’ll see.