WILD BELLE AND SAINT RICH
Monday, Sept. 30
It has been a banner year for Merge Records. Other than Polvo's long un-awaited comeback album, they've been batting a very high average, most recently with Saint Rich's Beyond the Drone. This quintet played the kind of rock 'n' roll that would've been labeled as alternative or indie, depending upon which decade in which they emerged. That's not important. What is important is they play somewhat traditional rock music, and they do it excellently. Correctly.
Saint Rich possess every quality of great British rock music from the Stone Roses to the Verve to The Libertines; I was almost shocked they weren't from England. There was a noticeable current American "indie" influence, but it wasn't overbearing. Regardless, they started off with some up-tempo songs, and then mostly settled into a groove of slow burning, torchy ballads. Christian Peslak has an astonishing voice and charisma, and it was on these slower numbers that he really shined. Generally, Saint Rich came across as arrogant, but benevolent. The band's perfectly orchestrated personas (beanpole singer, rocker guitarist, besuited second guitarist, etc.), orderly arrangements, and classic star power recalled the early days of The Strokes, when they were actually exciting, just like Saint Rich.
Critic Greil Marcus once wrote that after seeing Gang of Four open for the Buzzcocks, he left early so the Buzzcocks couldn't "ruin" what had just taken place. I felt the same way after watching Saint Rich, and while I don't have Marcus' privileges, I'm happy I don't because Wild Belle were just as great.
Wild Belle performed bass-heavy reggae music with electronic and world-beat touches. Natalie Bergman's voice sounded like a cross between Billie Holiday and a saxophone, cracking and crackling with perfect timing. The odd melodic instrumental textures complemented the rootsy horns and reggae organ, and Wild Belle's current single "Another Girl" played as Amy Winehouse's heartbroken soul with rock 'n' roll flourishes. More significant was the band's resemblance to New York's culture clash of the early '80s, where nascent hip-hop, dub reggae, electro funk, and punk all collided with fantastic results. Wild Belle consolidated that breakthrough and brilliantly made it sound brand new, with uniformly excellent songs. When Bergman dedicated a particularly bass-heavy beat down to "all the lovers," even the loneliest of us had no choice but to submit and simply get down.