Album Review: The Black Belles’ Self-Titled Debut

On first listen, The Black Belles’ debut is quite comfortable; it feels like an old standby.  That might be because I’m a big fan of The White Stripes and The Dead Weather, two bands that have Jack White’s weird influence. After having been signed and produced by White,  this band has his presence going for them as well.   Everything Jack White touches is tinted with his unique style, although I’m definitely not complaining.  In addition to influences from White, The Black Belles have a very garage-band feel to their music.  Their songs are simple but full of energy, and they feel organic – like they were left alone with a few instruments, and this is what came out.

The band’s songs are a creepy collection of power chord-based riffs, with warbley witches’ vocals floating on top.  Some are quite maniacal, while others sound a little more optimistic –  only a slight sensation of off-ness is present.  The lyrics of almost every song seem a bit wicked, with tales of revenge in songs like “Honky Tonk Horror,” the band’s most recent single.  I’m actually surprised they didn’t release the album in time for Halloween, because it’s definitely got a frightening vibe.  It’s very apparent that Jack White produced this album, because the songs feature instrumentation and mixing very similar to much of his work.  Most of it is in his more minimalist style, although there are a few moments when there’s just a cacophony of all-out energetic noise that shows the band isn’t afraid to go wild.

One of my favorite parts of this band is that they have a keyboard player going at all times.  She goes by the name Lil’Boo, according to the Third Man Records website.   Her most common noisemaker is an old-sounding organ, which lends itself well to their slightly weird sound.  Everyone knows carnivals can be creepy, and carnival organs double that creep factor.  At other times, her synths are buzzing and distorted sounding, like a pair of speakers whose batteries are almost dry.  This is particularly apparent at the beginning of the song “In a Cage,” and throughout the rest of the track; the guitar acts as backing for her keys, which take the lead.

As I mentioned, a lot of The Black Belles’ songs sound very familiar, and remind me of my favorite parts of other garage and goth bands.  The crunchy, hollow sounding guitars would feel right at home on a White Stripes album, and have definitely been mixed by a certain someone from that band.  A few songs have vocals and basslines reminiscent of The Dead Weather, particularly “Not Tonight.”  Actually, that’s the only song that disappoints me on the album – I wish it was more original, and sounded LESS like The Dead Weather.  Still, a little influence from them is good; who doesn’t like a few ominous undertones?  The last song on the album, “Hey Velda,” starts out slow and brooding, but about halfway through it turns into an awesomely distorted mess that I love.  The guitars are riff-tastic and crunchy, sounding more than a bit like some obscure band off the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World soundtrack.

To sum it up, this album is an extremely enjoyable listen.  I’m a sucker for garage rock and goth girls, but who isn’t?  The Black Belles sound a lot like a bunch of tried and true bands, but elements of their own personality come through and remind you that, yes, this IS original – and excellent.  I’m excited to hear this album coming through the speakers of my turntable soon, and in the meantime it’ll be streaming off of Third Man Records’ website non-stop around my house.  An excellent album to play whilst lighting black candles, or when you just want to cut loose and listen to something with distortion and energy.

Rating: 7.5/10


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