One good thing can be said for Tax Day this year, and it’s that it gave us Wild Belle’s new album, Dreamland. Headed by siblings Natalie Bergman and Elliot Bergman (previously with Afrobeat band, NOMO), Dreamland is earthy and — true to the band name — wild; a raw twist of reggae, soul and classic rock. From start to finish, the whole thing is rhythmic and enchanting. It has that deceptively idyllic sound that makes the Ol’ Wild West seem like a Disneyland Adventure Park rather than a world of cattle thieves and premature death. The Wild West we hear in Dreamland is way more fun, like if Kevin Costner wore glitter and flare jeans.
The younger sibling by eight years, Natalie started performing with her brother’s band at 16, armed with a microphone and a tambourine, while Elliot picked from his repertoire of mastered instruments. The Bergmans released their first EP together, It’s Too Late, in 2012, the next year coming out with the full-length album, Isles. It was their song, “Keep You,” that really put the two on the map after being featured in “Pitch Perfect” — though where exactly on the map is hard to say. Wild Belle’s influences draw from Chicago to Los Angeles to West Africa to Jamaica, making their bohemian-rock style impossible to pinpoint to one region. For instance, while the brother-sister duo is native to the Windy City, Dreamland (released April 15, 2016 via Columbia Records) has much more of a Santa Fe vibe going on, as if recorded in a bead-curtained adobe house complete with a rain stick and animal skins. Introducing us to their multi-cultured style, Wild Belle laid the groundwork of their dark, psych-pop on Isles; in Dreamland, they used it as a runway from which to take off (or dance on top of with that rain stick).
The 11 tracks on Dreamland are neither incongruous nor repetitive, creating a prime example of a band evolving their sound without getting redundant. “Coyotes” and “Cannonball” feature smoky, polyrhythmic rock, while there’s much more of a “yah man” feel in “The One That Got Away.” Wild Belle even breaches to the point of ska on their punchy, DGAF breakup song, “Giving Up On You,” then settling down a few tracks later into a dreamy ballad in “Our Love Will Survive.” And as for “Throw Down Your Guns,” heaven knows what genre that one belongs in (reggae? Alt? Rock?). Yet even with the diversity, Wild Belle’s originality is unmistakable with their stacked synth pads and Afro-beat musical roots.
Backed by brassy electric guitar, steel drums and werewolf-style oohs and aahs, the band resembles a co-ed Arctic Monkeys and The Black Keys, especially on their last track, “Rock & Roll Angel.” The drowsy, blues-rock song is about an Americana, top-down, dirt-road kind of love, one that can easily serenade any hot summer drive.
Came to meet me in San Francisco
He brought me roses on a suicide shifter
Took me to the courthouse
Down by Embarcadero
Rolling down the highway coast to coast
I felt your sunburned kisses
In cheap motels
He showed me visions of love
That I’ll never dispel
Listen: “Rock & Roll Angel” – Wild Belle
Like a true siren, the lyrics Natalie sings are a mix of haunting and seductive, though despite the solo feminine portrait of her on the album cover, they are anything but simply dainty. From the title track’s romance to the jaded heartbreak in “Losing You,” there’s a thread of sultry bitter-sweetness throughout Dreamland’s entirety. On the album’s first track, “Mississippi River,” she sings about a ghostly love in “days of darkness.” Like most music, much of the album is about romantic relationships (both good and bad), but the orthodoxy takes a unique, chilling twist with lines like “kiss me in the cemetery” or “Throw Down Your Guns’” quippy command, “Give me a hint of amnesia / so I can forget that I need you.”
I’ll give ’em another dimension
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 for all that I’ve done
Give me amnesia
So I can forget I need you
Take my morphine
I don’t wanna hurt no more, babe
I don’t wanna hurt no more, babe
Listen: “Throw Down Your Guns” – Wild Belle
Natalie’s voice, leading every song on Dreamland, has the alluring, tomboyish qualities of Lykke Li and Zella Day, whether it’s commanding with reggae-style breakneck lyrics or lulling us with more subdued, dreamy melodies. Natalie fits the “frontwoman” image too, with long blonde hair and a Vogue-ready wardrobe whenever encountered with a camera. The pre-released music video for “Our Love Will Survive” features her dancing African-style with a troupe of people, her brother intermittently riding on an old school motorcycle with his Lennon glasses, beard and wild hair. Whether it’s genetic or something they picked up on the road, the two effortlessly exude the rockstar vibe. The sibling power, while impressive before, is downright mighty in Dreamland, and their new songs will no doubt be traveling across the globe with its unique, undefined universality.