After performing at the South-by-Southwest Festival in March of 2012, Wild Belle walked away with a bit more than they anticipated, receiving attention from national music publications and what was soon to be a three-album deal with Colombia Records. The brother and sister duo, Natalie Bergman (23) and Elliot Bergman (31), will be releasing their first EP this March, via Columbia Records, although they recorded the album independently in early 2012. The duo has gathered widespread attention via YouTube and has been touring with Passion Pit, Of Montreal, The Temper Trap, Tennis, and Toro y Moi.
With a sound that reflects reggae, West African music, pop, and rock, the band is said to provide “tie-dye infused ripples in a sometimes all-too monochrome new music pond.” Natalie's image clearly evokes a Janis Joplin-esque persona, with her psychedelic clothing and her long, not-cared-to-be-straightened, blond hair. Watching Wild Belle perform, it begins to make sense why Elliot welcomed Natalie to join his popular afro-beat group, NOMO, at the age of 18. While Elliot developed NOMO, and toured for many years prior, it wasn't long before Natalie became the identified and attention-getting face of the group.
Natalie and Elliot's sound seems to reference the “glory days”, when there was no need for digital, computer-based, music production. Elliot celebrates culturally distinct instruments but enjoys providing them with “an analogue electronic treatment”, incorporating organic sounds with modern sensibilities and blurring the line between organic and electronic. Each song consists of densely textured sounds, some tracks having as many as 50 keyboard lines running at once.
Natalie's vocals and lyrics headline the pieces with an airy tone that evokes a sense of mystery along with with a bit of sass. The first single, “Keep You” shares the story of the singer's attempt at love, investing in another only to be rejected and hurt. The chorus reads “Why can't I keep you? Keep you”, while set to a melody that expresses remorse and disappointment. “It's Too Late” is written from the opposite perspective, actively saying “no” to another's advances. The song closes with vengeance, counter to the character the band seems to work off of in person: “Now you taste the teardrops that I cried.”
Raised in a musical family in the Chicago suburbs, Natalie and Elliot seek to reflect an era pre-dating their own. The band seems to have identified what they see as a better way of life, a life of peace, acceptance, community and creativity. What has revived this “hippy” belief among a group that never even lived in the 1960's or 70's? With the steady publication of conflict across the airwaves, it can be seen as sensible and sincere to look back at past methods of gathering together a peaceful community and embracing the associated way of life, including the associated artistic themes. The reference to the hippy image could also reflect a marketing plan aimed at boomers and middle-class teenagers with record players. This brings up a confounding question: Are they reviving the image and sounds of reggae and rock n' roll as artistic expression while on their quest towards shalom, or might they be reviving the image and sound to form a marketable sound and image that has a higher chance of being financially successful?
With a sound reminiscent of a different culture and a different time, Wild Belle makes a point of celebrating foreign ideologies and styles in a way that manages to grab the attention of a broad audience. While it is yet to be known if Wild Belle will be keeping rhythm in our stereos for the long-haul, or if they will be an example of a YouTube-hit gone sour, the three songs released thus far suggest that Wild Belle is only getting started.
- Michael Bass (SAO intern)