Photographer: Neil Krug.
The sophomore full-length album from Chicago's Wild Belle finds them widening their sonic palette with a set of moody, groove-oriented songs that also hit with a deeper emotional impact than the group's summery debut. Some of this is purportedly due in part to lead singer Natalie Bergman ending a particularly toxic relationship during the recording process. Whatever the reason, her sanguine tone paired with brother Elliot Bergman's lush, booming arrangements lends Dreamland a dramatic heft the band's laid-back tropical vibe might otherwise belie. Ironically, it's one of the album's more infectious and upbeat tracks, the hip-hop-inflected "Throw Down Your Guns," that best exemplifies the idea of relationship as violent siege. Natalie sings, "I miss you so much, I'd rather be dead/Baby, take me on a ride up to Heaven/I had you deep in my lungs/You took the breath out of me all at once/And I'm sorry all that I've done." Midway through the song she coos, "Nobody move, nobody get hurt," invoking Yellowman's classic 1984 reggae side. It's a perfect encapsulation of how Wild Belle are able to borrow bits of pop DNA from their influences and recontextualize them for modern pop ears. Elsewhere, the group does little to tinker with its hippie-groove formula. Cuts like "Losing You" and "Cannonball" are slow-burning, hip-swaying numbers punctuated by fuzz-soaked guitars, Elliot's resonant baritone sax, and Natalie's soulful, half-lidded flirtatiousness. While much of Dreamland has the tempo of a Jamaican sunset, there's also a feverish urgency underlying the sadness. Rife with a post-punk kineticism, cuts like the bluesy "Coyotes" and the driving "Giving Up on You" are delivered with snarling menace. ~ Matt Collar