Last week, Belle Mare released their debut EP The Boat of the Fragile Mind. I dig it.
It was maybe a month and a half ago or so that I first heard Belle Mare when the title track from this EP came my way. As I wrote then, the voice of Amelia Bushell – one half of this Brooklyn-based duo along with Thomas Servidone – and the accompanying music "[wrested me] out of the present and all its distractions." That it did so with an understated, almost muted approach, as opposed to being loud, busy, fast, or any other flashy qualities, makes its pull all the stronger. Just as it's often the softest-spoken whose words have the most weight, music that is more spare can often have profound impacts on listeners.
On these eight tracks there is a clearly defined sonic template: acoustic guitar, Amelia's vocals, distant piano, ambient effects. It can sometimes feel grim, but it is also undeniably beautiful. The Boat of the Fragile Mind is not something that mutates drastically from one song to the next. I have no problem with that because the sound feels so lived in and natural for the band and it's consistently good. The other thing I like is that when you are working from a more limited palette, the subtleties and nuances become so much more meaningful. Generally the acoustic guitar is strummed at a relaxed pace, but it's picked out for "The Once Happy Heart" and it's at its most rhythmic on "So Long." Once you have entered the world of the EP, these shadings are noticeable and have fascinating effects on the overall feeling of the respective songs. This is true for the ambient instrumentation as well. The opening track, "Charade" has almost a tropical feeling in its whoosh. Thomas is adept at implying sounds that really aren't there, too. After the occasional note of bass or the solitary hit of a kick drum, our brains tend to hear them as if they continued, when they actually are not. Like phantom notes.
The notion of a specter or ghost, of being haunted by what is no longer present but still is felt persists over the entire record. Most of the lyrics are addressed to a "you," seemingly across time or distance. "Haunted" is probably one of the many words you can use to describe Amelia's voice, particularly on a track like "Deep In Your Dark." It's a voice that attracts all kinds of adjectives, each of which sticks, but as a collective they never quite seem to add up to anything that fully captures its essence. She tends to be on the lower end of the register, unspooling words languidly, though she will use a nice falsetto frequently and even plays off herself on "All This Time," alternating a low, spoken tone with something higher and sung. She flirts with what I think is the poppiest melody on the EP in "The City" and it doesn't feel forced or uncomfortable, and the closer "So Long" probably best demonstrates her soulfulness.
For a little while, I was content to just feel the sound and enjoy its effects. Then, I started hearing the words. There are some powerful lyrical moments. A lot of it has to do with the pain that relationships can cause, which is something with which we all can identify. In "All This Time," I was struck by, "We were built for this thing I’ve been told, by every moment we’ve had to hold." To me, this is the weight of our past, of expectations, of mistakes, of regrets, of hopes, and everything else that sometimes spills over a little too much and overshadows the present. This song also uses what sounds like backwards vocals, almost like there is a sense of not being able to totally find yourself and being overwhelmed with everything that has built up. I was also impressed by the economy of words in "Rehearsed Lines." There aren't many, but they are all charged with meaning. The whole story is devastating, and with its message spread over just a few words, each one packs that much more power. None more so than the repeated final two: "We're unprepared." It's fitting for a record with a somewhat minimalistic musical approach.
Each song has some interesting musical detail, an overall emotionally appealing vibe, and at least one stunning lyrical line. You should listen to it and find your own treasures, and you can go to Bandcamp to purchase this album. You can like the band on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. They are playing on 5/2 at Mercury Lounge and 5/7 at the Studio at Webster Hall, more details available by going to the Bandcamp page on clicking the links on the right. Oh, and one last thing: Belle Mare loves Marlon Brando.