Defining its sound as “hip-hop blues soul,” London trio Belleruche is certainly aiming for a specific niche with their newest album, Rollerchain. Indeed, the group’s mixture of beats, reversed instrumentation, electronic foundations, and sweet, prepubescent female vocals make for a sound that will polarize its listeners (There’s really no way to be indifferent here). However, it’s hard to disagree that album’s uniqueness, coupled with its modesty and inventiveness, makes it a fun novelty, if nothing else.
The band is comprised of Kathrin deBoer (vocals), Ricky Fabulous (guitar), and DJ Modest (decks). According to their official biography, the trio formed “after Ricky and Modest, who played bizarre turntable and guitar sets in London bars, bumped in to Kathryn in the market one day.” Furthermore, “She did some singing over a cup of tea with the pair and Belleruche was born.” In addition, they describe their sound as “Sarah Vaughan, Django Reinhardt, and Cut Chemist stuck in a lift with Russian beer and a sampler.” Considering the askew melodic structures and seductive dominance of deBoer’s timbre, it’s fair to say that there are also touches of Kate Bush, Tori Amos, and Joanna Newsom. There’s a very hip and vintage quality to the unity between her delivery and the other member’s tracks, which ensures that Rollerchain is thoroughly intriguing.
“Stormbird” starts the album with hand claps, programmed syncopation, muffled staccato guitar, and electronic effects. Truthfully, although hypnotic, deBoer’s contribution sounds remarkable like “We Are Siamese if You Please” from Lady and the Tramp. Cleverly, the vocals and music become perpetually faster as the song concludes, which makes it a bit more exciting. By contrast, “Wasted Time” is a slower and more suspenseful song; even so, the way manipulated sounds complement the melodies is very interesting.
Elsewhere, “Get More” is eerily reminiscent of Amos’ “Raspberry Swirl”, and “16 Minutes” succeeds because of its space; it’s a somber and classy piece that seems to revolve around haunting regret. “Reach for the Bottle”, with its hip-hop verses, smooth guitar chords, and funky bass, is a lot more fun, and “Passenger Seat”, like many tracks on Rollerchain, conveys a cold mysteriousness that forces the listener to continue investigating even as he or she feels distanced from the music. In other words, it’d be perfect for the soundtrack to a David Lynch film.
Unfortunately, because of its limited scope and the group’s limited resources, Rollerchain suffers from a bit of monotony and repetition. The trio definitely has a distinctive approach in terms of both production and songwriting, but once the figurative tricks have been revealed, a certain level of boredom sets in. Although these dozen or so songs don’t really sound like anything else, they all sound a bit too much like each other.
Even with its flaws, Rollerchain feels a bit like a breath of fresh air. The songs defy a conventional structure, which is a bit of a doubled edged sword; on the one hand, they aren’t really catchy or affective, but on the other hand, their originality makes them cool. Musically, Ricky and Modest make do with what they have and incorporate some interesting moments throughout. Overall, though, Belleruche is more notable for its quirkiness than its overall quality.