Like many of you (or at least those who don’t have their ear to the ground in the Vancouver indie scene), my first exposure to The Belle Game came from indie-rock kingmakers Pitchfork, who named their single “River” as a Best New Track earlier this summer. They were right, but to call this band “new” isn’t entirely correct. After amassing much acclaim in Vancouver with two EPs over the course of four years, debut album Ritual Tradition Habit is a chance to cement The Belle Game as a new player in indie-rock (and another chance to prove the good ol’ Pitchfork effect). While it doesn’t quite follow through on the promise of that aforementioned revelation of a track, The Belle Game’s familiar sound lends itself to a solid debut.
Before we get to the rest of the album, “River” deserves to be talked about. Mixing a Walkmen-esque guitar sound with a rhythmic feel and lyrics both inspired by gospel, the sweeping sound on this track is comforting to listeners like me: indie-rock fans who came of musical age near the end of last decade. But like Alabama Shakes, a band that boasts a similar (but much bluesier) combo, the true x-factor is the firebomb on vocals – in this case, Andrea Luo. Her voice absolutely soars, turning the familiar backing track into verses filled with desperation and a chorus that seems able to literally blow doors off their hinges (with the lyrics “Take a little more from me”). The wonderfully delicate piano triplet line that follows the chorus accents this yearning and cuts through the hazy production with its warmth. While, yes, you can trace just about every individual element of this song to other artists in the genre, the way these elements are put together is astounding. Quite simply, this song is a marvel.
The band continues to mix familiar elements of other bands throughout the album. Later in the album, Luo’s voice seems to echo Feist. “Bruises to Ash” feels like the band decided to try out making some Veckatimest/Yellow House era Grizzly Bear jamming. The outro sounds like the more abstract Walkmen tunes (like “What’s In It For Me?”). There are a few choral effects that echo Fleet Foxes. Any listener of 00’s indie-rock should recognize a lot of these sounds.
However unoriginal this may seem on paper, the familiar sounds don’t really hurt the record. In fact, they add to its charm as musical comfort food (provided you’re a fan of what it echoes). The main riff of “Wait Up For You” is instantly recognizable in a “where did I hear this before?” way, and the bouncy vocal melody and drum beat hide some rather dark lyrics (the speaker is constantly denying the abusive state of a relationship). Despite that subject matter, it’s easily the most fun song on the album, with a final chorus that’s bound to lead to spontaneous dancing (read: flailing around semi-rhythmically).
Besides a few other standouts (“Keeps Me Up At Night” and “Blame Fiction”), few songs on this album really stand out beyond simply being pleasant. But that’s really what this album is: a pleasant indie-rock debut from a band with some solid songwriting and two wonderful indie rock tunes. This doesn’t exactly establish them as an up-and-coming band that the cool kids should check out now, but these songs show promise. Ultimately, Ritual Tradition Habit has me watching out for their next album, and isn’t that what every debut album should do?
Ritual Tradition Habit is out right now on Boompa Records