Review: Wild Belle’s debut album “Isles”

It’s easy to forget that members of indie pop duo Wild Belle hail from Chicago when their music draws on reggae, pop, ska, psychedelic, West African and soul influences. A partnership between siblings Elliot and Natalie Bergman, Wild Belle’s debut album “Isles” (released March 12) comprises songs of brutally honest words on the different sides of love.

Sibling collaborations are no stranger to the music landscape _㐠from 1970’s brother/sister singer-songwriter duo The Carpenters to modern-day bands such as indie rock twin sister duo Tegan and Sara. Although brother/sister musical duos can be beneficial or absolutely disastrous (êÑÔ_la the tension-filled relationship between Liam and Noel Gallagher of British rock band Oasis, causing the band’s breakup and the brothers’ estrangement from each other), the Bergman siblings manage to form a cohesive musical partnership.

Wild Belle’s first exposure to the mainstream came when the lead single “Keep You” was played during a scene in comedy film “Pitch Perfect” when reclusive, music-obsessed Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) is working at a college radio station. With its infectious ska style guitar plucking, synth-driven rhythm and aggressive saxophone sound, “Keep You” is fueled by a blissful and sweeping melody combined with Natalie’s sensual croon yearning for answers from a significant other slipping away from her. Lyrics such as “Same song/ again and again/ you rob me twice and I keep coming back” emit a sense of angst, yet it’s pop music at its finest.

It’s a wonder how the Bergman siblings can be so comfortable with divulging details of their love lives to each other as they create music based on heartbreak, skewed perceptions of love and in-your-face statements of what one deserves in a romantic relationship. Wild Belle’s conception happened when Elliot was a college student at the University of Michigan and formed the Afrobeat-influenced band Nomo. Younger sister Natalie joined Nomo on the road and helped out in multiple capacities, ranging from the merchandise table girl to a backup-singer/instrumentalist to eventually writing and performing with the band. When thoughts of a new project between the siblings arose, Wild Belle was born.

“Keep You” isn’t the only notable track on Wild Belle’s debut album. As an album, “Isles” is rich with diverse influences. When listening to party vibe song “Shine,” you’re that Natalie is what Gwen Stefani would’ve been if No Doubt was a more indie, do-it-yourself act when their Jamaican music-influenced album “Rock Steady” was released. The next moment you explore the possibility of Natalie and Elliot as teenage fans of African, world music-influenced indie rock band Vampire Weekend while the song “Twisted” plays. Then you imagine that while growing up the duo listened to Motown artists such as Marvin Gaye with the song “Another Girl.”

The variety of styles in “Isles” should not be mistaken for a musical identity crisis, though. If anything, there is consistency throughout _㐠a kind of consistency that is intuitive and, perhaps, one that only siblings can produce with dreamy melodies ironically complementing straightforwardly heartbroken lyrics. When Natalie’s sultry voice cries “Didn’t I treat you right?” in “Another Girl,” she is a force to reckon with. Natalie also seems to open up and is unafraid to speak her mind in tracks such as “Too Late,” “Twisted” and “Backslider,” in which she points out ways her significant other makes their relationship dysfunctional. Elliot has his say too when he takes on lead vocals in “When It’s Over” and insists, “He’s no good for you/ I told you so/ but you don’t know.”

Sibling intuition reaches its peak with the song “June.” A slower moment in “Isles” driven by simple ska-style guitar plucking, percussion and keyboard, “June” conjures up childhood nostalgia with the emotions behind Natalie and Elliot losing their mother. The line “Suddenly there’s a dark cloud” repeats as the duo compares losing their mother _㐠along with her love _㐠to a day on an island in which a storm comes. The metaphor employed not only demonstrates skilled storytelling, but also Wild Belle’s ability to create intimacy through their music.

“Isles” is rounded out by the song “Take Me Away” _㐠a perfect bookend to an album dedicated to the ups and downs of love. Natalie’s wish to be swept away while singing, “I don’t know you/ but I want to get to know you/ I want you” is everything Wild Belle is about. The duo sweeps the listener away in a world that sounds like paradise, yet even in paradise things can go wrong. Wild Belle knows that the need to overcome loneliness and find companionship is a universal human experience. And the best way to go about this journey is to take it to heart.