AUSTIN, TEXAS -- Write this name down: Wild Belle.
So far, the South by Southwest Music Conference belongs to them.
Wild Belle didn't have a prime slot Friday, stepping on stage at Antone's just as many conferencegoers were elsewhere finishing up their after-dinner drinks. Still, a substantial crowd had gathered, and the Chicago brother-sister duo of Elliot and Natalie Bergman did not disappoint.
The Bergmans (joined by a guitarist, bassist and drummer) makes deceptively breezy sounding pop music, drawing on elements of Jamaican rock-steady, U.K. trip-hop and atmospheric balladry. Clipped guitars play off Elliot Bergman's keyboards, and drums feed a steady stream of syncopated rhythm. The music arrives with a light, danceable touch that would seem to suit almost any setting.
Natalie Bergman was born in 1989, but she comports herself with the poise and knowing calm of a more experienced singer, playing with words and inflections, giving a sly, even sinister twist to seemingly innocuous questions ("Didn't I treat you right?") and unassuming assertions ("I'm just another girl"). No, she's most definitely not just another girl, and she gives the music a charismatic focus. Facile comparisons have been made to the sultriness of Lana Del Rey, but there are more dimensions at work in Wild Belle: a sassiness, wit, subtlety and confidence that I don't hear in Del Rey's music.
Also on Friday, New York City duo Tanlines induced New Order flashbacks by draping moody melodies over intersecting rhythm lines, Seattle's Pickwick blasted out manic old-school soul and garage rock, and London's Cold Specks broke up pristine chamber pop with bruised a cappella drama from Al Spx. The latter group sounded most promising when it let Spx do her thing without the cello and sax refinement. Only a closing, slow-surge burner hinted at what this group could do as a whole, but there was otherwise a shortage of memorable songs to support Spx's distinctive voice.
THEESatisfaction, a spinoff of Seattle hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces, made music perfect for a 3 a.m. post-party chillout. Trouble is Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White were performing at a noisy club, and though the duo's blend of melodic singing and sharp sci-fi rhyming was impressive, it didn't cut through the din. It didn't help that the duo was performing to an instrumental backing track; a more assertive live prestentation is a must when you're one of 2,000 acts fighting for attention this week at South by Southwest.
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