Fourth LP from a band only a few small tweaks away from greatness.
Mike Haydock 2012-06-06
For their fourth album, London trio Belleruche have plumbed the dark recesses of their trip-hop sound. This is their most restrained record yet: everything has been reined in, the beats have been broken up, and a sense of space pervades. For fans of Belleruche’s previous album, 270 Stories, which was full of warm melodies and toe-tapping blues rhythms, Rollerchain will take some getting used to.
The warning is there from the start. Opener and lead single Stormbird is a jerky, accelerating drone: single synth notes bend upwards, while muted guitar strums and electronic bleeps form an uneasy pattern beneath Kathrin deBoer’s eerie chanting.
It’s all a bit... eccentric. Creative, yes. Clever, certainly. But hard to adore. The atmosphere is harsh and unforgiving, and while the next track, Wasted Time, is richer in tone and vocally melodious, we’re still in a minor key. If you think Portishead are spare with their instruments, think again.
There are moments where Belleruche remember their love of a good tune – most notably on the poptastic Get More, which you could genuinely dance and smile along to, and Limelight, which is buried towards the album’s back end. But inbetween, the minimal aesthetic takes charge, and Rollerchain winds up sounding like a twitchy xx album.
Two main problems stick out. Firstly, the production is too changeable, rendering instruments and vocals tinny when, in a context as minimal as this, they need to boom and throb and seduce. Reach for the Bottle is the worst offender in this regard.
Secondly, and as a direct result of this weakened production, several of the songs feel atonal – Cloverleaf delivers its message, then meanders on as though lost in its own excesses, and Henbane has promise but fails to kick in and get the pulse racing. When the bass drops out of Belleruche’s sound, the whole thing threatens to dissolve completely.
These criticisms are frustrating, because there is plenty to appreciate, applaud and enjoy on this album, and you’re left with the sense that Belleruche are only a few small tweaks away from greatness.