Release Date: Mar 22, 2011
Record label: Kranky
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
As it turns out, Belong have introduced eight full-on, metronome-paced pop songs for Common Era, their first full-length since their acclaimed 2006 drone/noise album, October Language. I suppose this trend isn’t unheard of. Unfortunately or not, much like recent dark pop geniuses Lower Dens, their hazy confections are arriving awash in a sea of similar and somehow trendier confectioners.
Among the more amusing things I’ve read in a press release: Belong promises that their new album, Common Era, will contain “such common pop elements as ‘songs,’ vocals and drum machines”—after which they insist that, even so, there will be nothing “conventional” about the final product. That’s a typifying statement for the New Orleans duo, descendents of an experimentally minded rock vanguard (Can, Meddle-era Pink Floyd, My Bloody Valentine) for whom the song is exactly the type of commercial specimen that deserves to be scare-quoted and dissected under a microscope. Making good on their somewhat condescending promise, Belong takes the ambient noise-rock of their October Language LP and recalibrates it for a slightly less overwhelming listen.
After a five-year break between full-length releases, Belong's second album, Common Era, ripped into things right from the get-go with "Come See," as good a blast of My Bloody Valentine overdrive -- Isn't Anything era -- as one could want. The slight downside might be contextual given how many more shoegaze bands have blasted forth since their debut, but there's enough sighing vocals and feedback exultance and more throughout Common Era that if Belong are even more clearly part of a pack now, they're doing a damn good job in it. The echoed drums throughout just as readily suggest the other core touchstone band of the continuing scene -- the Jesus and Mary Chain -- but the sonic violence level almost (if not quite) reaches that of Lovesliescrushing.
These days it feels like the relationship between pop music and the ‘alternative’ art rock has never been closer. If in the past college and indie rock acts made a point of differentiating themselves from the mainstream, contemporary artists have a more nuanced relationship to the charts, and pop’s own history. From Hype Williams’s twisted re-working of Drake, to Oneohtrix Point Never’s similarly ghostly interpretation of Fleetwood Mac (among others), bands today have a more inclusive – dare I say, post-modern – approach to chart tracks past and present.
Belong's 2006 debut, October Language, processed guitars into clouds of edgeless texture and tone. The Colorless Record EP from 2008 reorganized those huge, crumbling drone-chords on a spindle of obscure psych-pop covers, making the sound less abstract while remaining a glorious ruin. With Common Era, the new album from the New Orleans duo of Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones, an evolutionary timeline emerges.
Conventionally, sophomore albums follow fairly soon after debuts. Not the least bit conventional, Belong’s sophomore full length, Common Era, comes five long years after their debut October Language. The jawdroppingly gorgeous, cinematic dronescapes of that debut have given way to something much more peculiar and singular on their latest release. The Colorloss Record EP, which was released a few years after October Language and was composed of smeary covers of rock songs, introduced vocals – albeit deeply veiled ones – into the duo’s repertoire.