THE BELLES Omert (Eat Sleep)
"Omert" is Kansas duo The Belles' debut album, and it's instructive to learn that they're currently touring with the Pernice Brothers, as their audience and approach overlap significantly. Both play literate, wistful, melancholic modern American alternative rock. Crucially, though, The Belles aren't afraid to write naggingly insistent hooks, rather than the pale, half-remembered melodies that the brothers Pernice major in. Admittedly, some of those hooks are a little over-familiar: "So I, Sing" is strongly reminiscent of The Beatles' "Because" - well, McCartney is an admitted influence, alongside Paul Westerberg and Neils Young and Finn - and "Liquid Breakfast" is cut from the same cloth as Neil Diamond's "Cherry Cherry". "Never Said Anything", though, is authoritatively all their own work, with a hook that claws into the grey matter and further distanced from blandness by some clanging tuned percussion and sacrilegious drum programming. (Apparently being mixed for single by Coldplay producer Ken Nelson, it's difficult to envisage how he could render it any more radio friendly whilst still being the work of this band.)
Other structural delights include the wailing lap steel at the back of "Little Mexican"'s unsquare waltz, the wraith of organ hanging suspended behind the wholesome jangle of the title track and the distant traffic passing through the alfresco recording of "A Thousand Ships". It's also worth noting their inventive use of percussion, possibly a function of the band's minimalist configuration: mixed right up with Christopher Tolle's guitar, bass and keyboards, Jake Cardwell's drum kit gives the songs structure and texture as well as rhythm - it's unusual to hear the rattling cough of snares presented so prominently.
If you like the Pernice Brothers, or any other branch of Smiths-inspired Americana, "Omert" should be on your shopping list. It's slight but sweet.