April 5, 2013

Max Bell’s heart pumps coffee.

The EP is often the best distillation of an artist’s/group’s early material. There’s no room for the extraneous or sub-par. If not excised, there’s no place for the lame to hide. For groups that go with the LP the first time out, the skip button is usually hit, and you wonder why they didn’t leave the filler on the cutting room floor. Not Bells Atlas, a group  committed to perfecting the short, “all killer, no filler” EP format.

The quartet from Oakland released a few demo tracks back in early January, which were good sketches (“Kazoo” especially). In February they released their first single, “Video Star,” on Giles Peterson Worldwide, and appeared on a Kid A covers project, putting an upbeat spin on “Motion Picture Soundtrack.”  This past March, with the official release of their self-titled EP, they’ve refined and reworked some of those demos and have come into their own.

Comprised of three original tracks and two remixes, it’s about as short as an EP can get, and probably just as good. They’re somewhere between Badu and Bonobo’s live recordings. Self-described as Afro-Pop/Soul, their influences seem pulled from everywhere. With their use of the loop pedal, one might even go so far as to call them the Afro-Pop/Soul analog to the tUnE-yArDs. And though I mentioned Badu, Lawson-Ndu is no imitator. Her smooth and breathy, sometimes whispering, vocals stand on their own.

The aforementioned first single, “Video Star,” is among the best, though it’s admittedly difficult to decide which track I like the most. On one level, it’s a satire on the Youtube viral sensation craze that’s given us Psy and Carly Rae Jepsen. Conversely, it’s a lament that new artists must conform to the Internet hype vehicles. The best lyrics are the most conflicted, “No other game is like this/ We’re not willing to leave it alone.” It doesn’t get much more pointed (or poignant) than that.

“Incessant Noise” and “Loving You Down,” the other two original cuts on the EP, are also worth your time. The former is Lawson-Ndu’s best overdubbing of her vocals, and the drums of the latter hit harder than Bay wind. With respect to the remixes, Bendaur of Hiatus Kaiyote (check them out) and Aki Ehara of The Seshen handle them deftly, retaining the soul of the originals while making the tracks their own. If you only have time for one of two, I’d say check the electronic/IDM take on “Video Star.”

If their full-length album—supposedly dropping June 15th—capitalizes on the promise displayed here, Bells Atlas should be worth the space on your hard drive.

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