Andrew Belle's debut album The Ladder was one of my favorite releases of 2010. Born just outside of Chicago, the singer-songwriter crafted an album of fine melodic pop, much of it mid-tempo, and awash in acoustic and electric guitars, as well as strings. Yes, there are a ton of acts making this type of music, but The Ladder was so strong lyrically and melodically, it stood out from the crowded field.
Fast forward to 2013 and Belle returned with his second full length, one of tremendous growth as an artist, in Black Bear. The easy thing to do would have been to repeat the formula of The Ladder. After all, tracks from that album were used on a number of network television shows, earning him a wider audience, one he deeply deserves. But Belle challenged the listener with the addition of a heavy electronic influence on his music, one that only served to enhance the still fantastic pop songs these ten are. Belle says the change in direction was brought on by listening to bands like M83 and Beach House, and it has given his music a whole new life.
Black Bear was created during a time of great change for Belle. A relocation to Chicago from Nashville, marriage and a reaffirmation of his faith all played a role in the lyrical and thematic content of the album. Musically the album is propelled by keyboards and electronics starting with the opening track "Dark Matter". This is not an 'electronic' album though. Belle still utilizes guitar and piano to build the majority of these songs around, but the electronic additions to songs like "Sister", "The Enemy" and the pulsing "Details" are perfectly executed.
There are a couple gorgeous ballads in the title cut and "I Won't Fight It". "Santa Fe" is a personal favorite and by far the most experimental song on here, almost an electro-R&B vibe on this one with Belle's falsetto vocals slightly echoed and enhanced. As much as I love everything on the album, first single "Pieces" deserves its own mention. A song inspired by his new wife, the melody and chorus on this song are so perfect, it is an absolute musical crime it was not all over radio. I know commercial radio is not what it used to be anymore, but when I hear a song this spot on, this catchy, I get frustrated when it doesn't find enough listeners. Andrew Belle solidified his place as one of my favorite singer-songwriters with Black Bear and getting to finally see him live late in the year in Ann Arbor was an added bonus.
Favorite tracks: "Pieces", "I Won't Fight It", "Santa Fe", "Sister"
Black Bear was released August 20, 2013 via Elm City Music.