The Belles

Omertá

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    8
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AllMusic Review by

The Belles are a duo from Lawrence, KS. Christopher Tolle handles vocals, guitars, keyboards, and bass, while Jake Cardwell mans the drum kit. Their sound is subdued, melodic, and quite similar to modern rock bands like the Wallflowers and Third Eye Blind. Tracks like "Never Said Anything" and "Omertá" have the earnest vocals, wide-screen choruses, and straightforward approach that modern rock thrives on. And they have a pop sensibility that some of these bands seem to have left behind as their bankbooks grew. Tracks like "Liquid Breakfast" and "(Who Will Be) Here to Hear?" are as catchy as pneumonia and nowhere near as painful. However close the Belles get to the mainstream sound, they always pull back at the last second by throwing a curve ball and making the songs too interesting to be popular: The falsetto on "You Can't Have It All," the whispered vocals on "Victory Parade," and the lo-fi guitar and wailing vocal duet on the American Music Club-influenced "A Thousand Ships" show that this is a band that cares about arrangements, dynamics, and atmosphere. Tolle's vocals are the greatest strength of the band, heartfelt and emotional yet understated; they help keep the band honest and true. The Belles are nothing if not honest. They eschew studio glossiness at all times, keep the songs simple, and take a low-key, relaxed approach that precludes them from being played on the radio. OK, so maybe they don't have what it takes to be big stars, but they do play the kind of music that fans of bands like Counting Crows and the Wallflowers will love if they give it a chance. The Belles have come up with an understated gem of a record full of memorable songs and great performances. Radio may never play them and they may never hit the charts, but don't let that stop you from adding them to your play list.

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