The strange, disrupting percussive signature that opens Bells Atlas’ “Be Brave” sets the trajectory for everything that follows on the EP of the same name. The music which has been described as kaleidesonic is just that; structures twist, melodies scale and drop, beats groove in grand patterns. The timbre of this first track registers like a trip. Singer Sandra Lawson-Ndu lends an out-of-body vocal track that whirls around the speakers, and we’re away.
This latest release from the Oakland four-piece continues a path through a landscape of their own making. Borrowing sounds from psych-rock, psych-folk, jazz, and world beats, the grooves are distinct, and breaks are unique. Be Brave speaks to the personal identity of band and audience, and the perception of self in a bewildering world where nothing is as it should be.
Oftentimes bands in this space paint themselves into a corner of contrived laid-backness. When political issues are discussed they’re spoken about in simplistic terms. The target of derision is ‘them’ whilst fans / listeners of the band are ‘us’. The kind of bands that promote ‘free thinking’ usually mean ‘the kind of thinking that’s just like our thinking’. It’s in this arena that Bells Atlas distinguish themselves with a maturity of vision. They acknowledge the movement of targets, they address their own fallibility, and they address the muddle of their own hearts when trying to testify. The reassuring phrase “Be Brave” is as much a self-soothing technique as it is a guide for the listener.
Across the collection there are moments of deeply pleasing oddness. A mix will start with a spaced-out synth bed, and spare hypnotic beats – but then a switch is thrown, handclaps and highlife guitar jump to life. There’s an immediate shift in the barometric pressure and we’re dragged into an entirely different headspace. This isn’t as confusing as it sounds, because for all the colors being distributed around the canvas there is a definite structure that ties everything together. The head may occupy several spaces at once but the body is all dance. The groove on this sequence of tunes cannot be overstated. It’s a thing of goodness.
The instrumental version of “Ncat” represents the DNA of the band. Stripped of the restraints of language there is a freedom of groove that can only happen when we stop thinking and start feeling, and yet thankfully, somehow the band never entirely disengage the brain.. It’s a an interesting frame through which to gaze at the previous tracks. Without language, and cultural associations, the emotional content becomes all the more up-lifting. The eagerness for expression, and the promotion of unity is key.
HURRY – LISTEN – BELLS ATLAS
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PHOTOGRAPH BY DOMINIC MERCURIO