The Bellyachers
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The Bellyachers

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


(9 out of 10 stars)

From San Francisco's Bay Area, THE BELLYACHERS come bearing a DIY attitude (self-financed operation, book their own tours, design their own artwork and merchandise; their website came in as a finalist in the SXSW web awards) that would normally be associated with straight-edge hardcore punk outfits such as Fugazi.

However, if you're consequently expecting their third album "2OO Lucky Feet Move The Dragon" to be some rushed-out, recorded in 24 hours statement of punk authenticity then you'll quickly be thinking again, because there's nothing remotely hurried or corner-cutting about the standard that's maintained during the course of this excellent, quality-first rock/ pop album.

The Bellyachers are a two girls and two guys outfit featuring Sandra Mello (bass, vocals), Melody Baldwin (guitar, vocals), Brian Mello (guitars, vocals) and drummer Peter Craft. This album is their third - after 2000's "Bottoms Up" and 2002's "Heavy In My Hands" - and suggests that some back catalogue backtracking activity is immediately required.

Opener "Fool's Game" suggests we may well be in for a treat. Fading in on backwards strings and angel wings it's then set up by strident piano and Sandra and Melody harmonising with sweetness and edge. The whole band fall in to fine effect and by the time the song finally gives up the ghost we've been treated to a couple of quicksilver guitar solos and a hugely dramatic end coda. Not a bad start by anyone's standards.

Brilliantly, this is merely the beginning of something fantastic too. Songs like "Forever Changed" carry a lingering whiff of Americana in general and Chris Isaak in terms of the twangy, baritone guitar, while Sandra Mello's vocals are dreamy and commanding and carry a hint of Emmylou Harris; "Walking Time" demonstrates they can pull off a dark, wistful ballad every bit as effectively and "Heaven Is Blue" goes from dusty and semi-acoustic by way of a few Bowie-style electronic elements through to a full-on anthemic blow-up of a chorus.


All of these - plus Melody Baldwin's stark portrait of a couple papering over the cracks of a disintegrating relationship on "We Don't Talk" - showcase a band in supremely confident form, but naturally they don't forget to rock either. "Halfway Around The World", for example, is gripping, chromatic pop with heady harmonies and some welcome, Big Star-style power pop oomph; the tense "Crisis Of Faith" features a descriptive Brian Mello vocal and feels distinctly reminiscent of X and "It's My Turn" finds rasping guitar riffs trading with sympathetic strings as well as setting up a great backdrop for some super-descriptive Sandra and Melody vocals.

Arguably, though, they save the very best for last with "Swan Dive": a stealthy, jazzy creep adorned by David Phillips' pedal steel and a dreamy, neo old-time feel. It's kissed by beautiful harmonies and serves as a great way to waltz us into The Bellyachers hearts' in the same yearning romantic way Chris Mills did with "Signal/ Noise" on his still-wonderful "Kiss It Goodbye" album.

But regardless of any number of fleeting reference points, The Bellyachers engage you with a presence and charisma that is theirs and theirs alone throughout the course of the excellent "200 Lucky Feet Move The Dragon". Indeed, apres-listen, the only two questions that remain to niggle this writer are : 1) Why the hell aren't these guys fighting off record companies brandishing large chequebooks? and 2) What on Earth is that album title about? The rest is more than satisfying to these ears. - Tim Peacock | Whisperin & Hollerin | January 13, 2006


Discography

200 Lucky Feet Move the Dragon [2005]
Heavy in My Hands [2002]
Bottoms Up [2000]

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Modern conventions of music labeling do not apply to “200 Lucky Feet Move The Dragon,” the latest offering from the Bellyachers. A complex recording, “200 Lucky Feet” is a place where the nuances of lush orchestral pop rub shoulders with infectious classic rock hooks, where the angular pulse of ‘80s new wave grinds on the dance floor with finely-tuned song craft and where progressive rock canoodles with forget-me-not country shuffles.

The Bellyachers are Sandra Mello (vocals, bass), Brian Mello (vocals, guitar), Melody Baldwin (vocals, guitar), and Peter Craft (drums, recording engineer). In part, their latest work hails from having their own full-fledged recording studio, which they built from the ground up over the course of six sweaty, dusty months. Before the paint was even dry, they settled in to record. An ambitious undertaking, to be sure, but not surprising from a band that has already self-produced two full-length recordings, books and finances its own tours, and designs its own posters, merch, album art and website (a finalist in the SXSW Web Awards).

Sonically, this is a layered yet spacious recording. Produced by the band and engineered by drummer Peter Craft, great swirling soundscapes are conjured in bright cinematic colors that shift from song to song like the blurred visions of a road trip. The vocals are impassioned, the guitars growl and twist, and the drums range from thundering to distant punctuations.“

The topics are as varied as the sound: songs about the randomness of good fortune, religion in politics, crumbling relationships, unquestioning love, the absurdity of the human condition, failed suicide as spiritual breakthrough, traffic fatalities and tedium, and Buddhist meditations on the merits of diving when one falls.

The band's maverick spirit is fueled by equal parts passion and realism, by the keen desire to make good music and the knowledge that waiting around for a label deal is counter-productive. Recording “200 Lucky Feet” in their own studio gave the Bellyachers the freedom to experiment and explore and the breathing room to work when the workin' was good and walk away when it just wasn't happening. The result is a recording that rules out nothing and risks everything, that defies pigeon-holing and defines the Bellyachers on their own terms. Safe to say, they wouldn't have it any other way.