bells atlas’ debut record merges soul afrobeat and dream-pop. this is the kind of record that kickstarts movements. #soundcheck

June 24, 2013

Since hearing “Loving You Down” I’ve been totally hooked on Bells Atlas. One of the most inventive original bands in recent memory, Oakland’s Bells Atlas merges soul, Afrobeat, and dream-pop for a sound that’s unlike anything else out there. Eminently chill and sexy in equal measure but with out of this world complexity and musical sophistication, their self-titled debut is the first must-hear album of the summer. (And yeah yeah I know it’s only been summer for like 2 days, but this is the record we’ll be judging everything else against…)

The album contains the three tracks from their recent EP in slightly tweaked arrangements. “Loving You Down” opens the record and devolves from it’s soulful hotness into a cacophony of bells and sax squeals. It’s the kind of controlled ambient chaos Bells Atlas does so well, mirroring the fractured mirror on the record cover. In addition to stand-out tracks from the EP “Video Star” and “Incessant Noise,” the other big highlight here is the closer, “Kazoo.” Singer Sandra Lawson-Ndu delivers a neo-soul vocal over Derek Barber’s best guitar work on the record. Then the strings kick in. It’s a testament to Bells Atlas’ gift for arrangement that though there always seems to be a million things going on in their songs it never feels cluttered.

Though Sandra Lawson-Ndu’s vocals dominate the record, it’s clear that this is a thoroughly collaborative affair. Nowhere is that more evident on the post-disco of “Capable People.” Sharing lead vocal duties with bassist Doug Stewart, the band conjures a bit of the boy-girl vocal magic of Body Language without losing an ounce of their distinctive sound. This is the kind of record that can kickstart movements. Or at the very least make the hot summer nights feel a little more chill. Do your ears a favor and pick this one up.

– Words by Nathan Leigh