**1/2 (out of four)
Though Wild Belle’s name suggests untamed beauty, the Chicago band’s music might better be thought of as a refining of ugliness. On the duo’s full-length debut, “Isles,” bitter feelings, heartbreaks and letdowns are all dressed up in the veneer of carefully arranged vocals and laid back dub rhythms. To the point that it almost seems like there's nothing wrong at all.
The warm, familiar blend of throwback R&B, reggae and indie pop – think Amy Winehouse with more offbeat guitars and the occasional drum machine – will be an ideal soundtrack for the sunny days of late spring and early summer. It’s the album's greatest trick, turning the arguments and frustrations of the relationships singer Natalie Bergman documents into moments of comfort. Even the presumably sardonic lyrics of “Twisted” (“What's the definition of love if it isn't material things?”) come across as almost reassuringly sincere. You might find yourself nodding along to the idea that there's no relationship a diamond ring can't fix.
Yet this reassurance can also be the album's biggest weakness: It's pretty and precise but rarely unruly or exuberant. Arresting moments like the honking sax on “It's Too Late” or the staccato percussion and vocals of “Shine” are regrettably limited. “Isles” is flawlessly executed but in a sedate, restrained way that ignores the most sublime, emotive elements of its influences. Songs like “Love Like This,” an intimate love song with perfect backing harmonies, are very belle, but they could stand to be just a bit more wild.
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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