Just how wild are Wild Belle? Their home life sounds fairly normal – the brother-sister duo of Elliot and Natalie Bergman are two of four children born in Chicago to musician parents, who brought them up in a house full of jazz and James Brown. Elliot, who’s eight years older than Natalie and a multi-instrumentalist (yes, that’s him on the sax), started an Afrobeat band called Nomo while he was studying at the University of Michigan. After her 16th birthday, Natalie started performing with Nomo, playing tambourine and singing backing vocals. A couple of years ago they decided to go it alone on their own project, and chose the name Wild Belle –the Belle being Natalie, natch.
So far, so standard. Then last year Wild Belle put out one song, ‘Keep You’. On the strength of it they signed to major label Columbia, who sent them to Kingston, Jamaica to film a video that appears to be about why Natalie, who is 24, can’t keep the love of a little boy who still sucks his thumb at night. Which is definitely kind of… wild? It’s also the first and best song on the album, which is a shame because everybody has already heard it.
The 10 other songs on ‘Isles’ swing between GarageBand pop and honking sax-led dub, and many of them take up the theme of being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t like you very much. ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘Shine In The Sun’ split Natalie’s verses with Elliot’s sax interludes. ‘Twisted’ sees Natalie coo over calypso rhythms like a greyscale Lily Allen. ‘Just Another Girl’ is Lana Del Lite, a downtempo noir number that proves that Natalie can hold a tune. It’s one of the few moments on the album when her vocals are not double-tracked to fill out the sound.
Early reviews compared Natalie’s voice to that of Santigold, an artist who plays with processed production to convey glassy retro-futurism. But Natalie just sounds consistently cold and unconvincing. When she’s debating whether or not she should cut her hair or take out the trash on ‘Happy Home’ you will quickly wonder why you should care.
That’s if you make it that far. ‘Isles’ is an album that apes the marketability of The Ting Tings, but replaces their danceable beats with diluted dub rhythms and tempos that, in the time of vinyl, would have had people switching between 33 and 45 rpm to make sure that it was actually supposed to plod along like that. It’s about as exotic as a cocktail umbrella.