“Keep You,” the opening track off Wild Belle’s highly anticipated debut album, Isles, is the type of infectious track that almost delivers too much too soon. Its breezy, sun-splashed rocksteady rhythms offer a promise of carefree summer that belies the doomed romance of its lyrics (“Same song/Again and again/You wrong me twice/And I keep coming back”). It’s an affective and effective opener, one that primes the listener for what one wishes will be the soundtrack of the summer.
Elliot and Natalie Bergman, the brother-and-sister Chicago duo behind Wild Belle, successfully employ a grab bag of sounds and influences seemingly culled from tropical coasts—from Afrobeat to dancehall—while wrapping their songs in an electronica-laced pop bubble. At their best, Wild Belle, with the older brother playing most of the instruments and the younger sister doing most of the singing, nearly pull off the Phil Spector-like trick of creating thickly-produced, viscerally catchy songs that contain cleverly deceptive lyrics of youthful romantic blunder.
Tracks such as “Twisted,” with its arpeggiated Afropop guitar melody and driving percussion, crests with the Bergmans’ harmonizing, “You never told me/You were cold as ice, ” and almost abruptly ends with younger Bergman plaintively sing-speaking, “What’s the definition of love/If it isn’t material things?,” against a tinkling piano. “When It’s Over,” where the Bergmans trade vocal duties, is a propulsive stomper of staccato keyboards and island-inflected melodies that’s too addictive to first notice the lonely refrain of “When it’s over/You’re all alone/When it’s over/Will you come home?”
Despite the strength of the aforementioned tracks, consistency isn’t Isles’ strongest suit. Some of Wild Belle’s arrangements seem grafted onto the straightforward pop structure of their songs for the sake of doing so, such as the wildly bland sax stylings that accentuate the chorus of “It’s Too Late.” Although its obvious throughout Isles that both Bergmans can sing, the sometimes nonchalant delivery tires quickly.
None of album’s 11 tracks quite match the immediacy of “Keep You,” but there are enough moments and depth throughout to warrant repeated visits to Isles.