It seems like one of the trends in music these days is for synthesizer assisted folk duos that feature females singing slowly, often achingly. Beach House. Tamaryn. Holobody. The Great American Canyon Band. And, now, Belle Mare.
Belle Mare is the duo of Amelia Bushell and Thomas Servidone. She sings, and i guess he saws away at the guitar.
The voice is the centerpiece of the music. Bushell has a hint of an English accent, especially in her pronunciation, and although her voice is heavily echoed, the singing style is crisp and precise. The music behind the voice is delicate, light, sparse, and echoed. It is a light wash behind the voice, which is always forefront. There is strummed acoustic guitar clattering along slowly as you hear that scraping sounds as fingers move over the fretboard, washes of hazy synths, and some light tinkling piano. That's it really. A pretty simple formula, but they do a lot with it.
However, i will tell you this right now -- if you don't like her voice, this EP will do nothing for you. The key to appreciating the music of Belle Mare is liking Ms. Bushell's singing style. And it is quirky, with swallowed vowels, yodeling (no, really!), and quiet muttering all in a vaguely nasally style that is highly echoed. Not to say she is as quirky as Regina Spector or Joanna Newsome (i mean, Bushell is not THAT much of a freak), but it is still a slightly different vocal style.
They pack eight tunes into about 25 minutes on this EP, and no song breaks the four minute mark.
Charade kicks things off with two guitar layers, one lightly tremoloed and vaguely Western-sounding (shades of the last Devics record) while an acoustic strums in the foreground. She wails away nicely over this, and eventually a light piano and some very slight percussion (a tambourine maybe) come in. I like this one.
The Once Happy Heart is more electronic. It begins with a burble of electro noise, and her voice kinds of stutters at points. She sounds a lot like Victoria Legrand here, making this sound like Beach House remixed by AmAnSet. It's pretty.
The title track is next, and here Bushell's voice trembles like she is terrible sad. The guitar chugs lethargically and there are strange echoing sounds like a voice blurred in the distance. The overall effect reminds me of those late 1950s teenage death ballads. I imagine Ms. Bushell in a hoop skirt singing about how her boyfriend got hit by a falling Communist anvil, or whatever happened to those teenagers... The whole thing is sad, but to be honest it is not their best work.
All This Time features Bushell pushing her voice a little more. It is richer and deeper here than on previous tunes, and i find that it works really well with the echoed, strummed guitar. Towards the end, the band layers in some big booming beats -- like a big drum hit once and allowed to reverb for several seconds. That is a nice effect.
Bushell sticks to her fuller singing style on Deep In Your Dark, where something in her forced pronunciation reminds me of Thao Nguyen. This is a really pretty tune, the guitar a faint tinkle accompanied by light keys. The Thao comparison continues on The City.
But on Rehearsed Lines she is singing more delicately and is more heavily echoed. There is a faint wash of strings accompanying the strummed guitar, which makes this tune eerie, mellow, and lovely.
And finally we end with So Long at which point Ms. Bushell actually yodels for a bit. No, it's true -- the tremolo in her singing style gets really extreme, and almost kind of weird. Coupled with the fact that the music in the background sounds like something from Julee Cruise, and you have my least favorite track here.
But i am pleased overall. For a self-released debut EP, this is pretty good stuff.