Thank Belly for reviving a sound that maybe never should have disappeared in the first place.
When a band disappears from the musical spotlight, time doesn’t stop. The world continues turning and the landscape changes. In most cases, this leads to a strange kind of fiction when that band suddenly returns to the scene. Either the listeners are gone or have grown out of that sound or the band has and wants to do something entirely different. It’s a hit or miss proposition. Somehow, on Dove, their first album since 1995’s King, alt-rock darlings Belly have simply picked up where they left off and it feels just right.
It wouldn’t be fair to say Belly, fronted by Tanya Donelly from The Breeders and Throwing Muses, haven’t changed at all. Their songcraft is tighter and it’s clear everyone involved have become stronger, more complete musicians in the years that have passed. But it’s thrilling to hear an act strengthen a sound and style that worked so well for them in the early ‘90s and not have to significantly alter it for late ‘10s relevance.
They still make palatable guitar rock with great melodies, lively grooves and evocative lyrics. The singles, like “Shiny One” and “Human Child,” are throwbacks, sure, but Donelly’s ability to sing to the youth hasn’t withered with age. It’s not hard to imagine a certain subset of teenage listeners discovering the band through this new record and dialing the clock back to the grunge era in their Spotify playlist making. Because, yeah, on one hand, this is definitely a band who was on the soundtrack to Mallrats making a comeback in the era of Soundcloud, but kids seem to like Haim and this isn’t a leap from that.
“Girl,” in particular, brings out the best in the group and demonstrates why Donelly has gotten comparisons to Stevie Nicks. It’s a sweet, upbeat tune about young womanhood that feels like an alt-rock adaptation of Ladybird. The wistful quality in her voice coupled with the heartwarming imagery call to mind the presence that Neko Case brought to early New Pornographers tracks. If anything, being a more mature and experienced songwriter has made Donelly more adept at capturing the ineffable nature of youth. This is a case of perspective and distance sharpening one’s skills, not dulling them.
While much of the album is hard charging, with sultry guitar licks and a jamming rhythm section, elsewhere they still prove very capable with subtler moods, capturing that MTV Unplugged aesthetic well with the coarse strumming on “Suffer the Fools” or the somber closer “Heartstrings.” When the band got back together and started touring again two years ago, they must have looked back at their catalog and realized there’s nothing to fix if the formula still functions.
In a modern landscape where indie rock skews more twee, it’s difficult to get a taste of this specific slice of alternative music without just listening to stuff from that era. It’s not breaking new ground or reinventing the wheel, but thank Belly for reviving a sound that maybe never should have disappeared in the first place.