Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve written quite a bit about the Oakland, CA-based futuristic soul act Bells Atlas. And as you may recall, the act which is comprised of Derek Barber (guitar) Geneva Harrison (drums, percussion, keys) Sandra Lawson-Ndu (vocals, percussion, keys) and Doug Stuart (bass, vocals, keys) of Derek Barber (guitar) Geneva Harrison (drums, percussion, keys) Sandra Lawson-Ndu (vocals, percussion, keys) and Doug Stuart (bass, vocals, keys) have received attention for a forward-thinking, kaleidoscopic and lush sound that draws from indie rock, 90s R&B, Afro pop, Afro-futurism, jazz, electro pop and experimental pop. Adding to a rapidly growing profile, the members of the Oakland-based act has opened for the likes of Hiatus Kaiyote, Badbadnotgood, Bilal, Meshell Ndegeocello, W. Kamau Bell, Angelique Kidjo and others, as well as Bermuda Triangle, the side project of Alabama Shakes‘ Brittany Howard. Along with that, they spent 2016 as the touring band for NPR’s Snap Judgement.
Released earlier this year, the acclaimed futuristic soul act’s latest EP SALT AND SOAP is inspired by cleansing rituals and preservation methods, with the understanding that when you’re not accustomed to releasing your most personal stories, the idea is then to take a moment to prepare for a shift — for a new way of being open. Interestingly, during the creative process for their latest EP, the band stumbled upon a new songwriting process that incorporated the use of sampling grainy phone memo recordings of Geneva Harrison drumming as the bedrock of each song of the EP — and in turn, their full-length album The Mystic, which is slated for a March 2019 release. Focusing on spontaneity and sometimes even humor, the aim developed into writing music that was cinematic yet personal while highlighting each member’s individual skills and talent within the larger whole.
A few weeks ago the members of Bells Atlas were invited to Audiotree Live to do a live session centered around the material of the SALT AND SOAP EP including “Downpour,” a paradoxically slick yet lo-fi, lush and lysergic groove-driven track that recalled Drakkar Nowhere, Pavo Pavo and Erykah Badu; “Be Brave,” a sinuous and fluidic track centered around an incredibly dexterous and percolating bass line, driving percussion and rapidly morphing tone and time changes; the incredibly sultry “NCAT,” centered around shimmering and bubbling arpeggiated synths, stuttering drumming and a rolling bass, as well as two other tracks I haven’t written about — “Overshare” and “Find Where You Rise.” Throughout the live session, the material proves to be a perfect foil for Lawson-Ndu’s vocals, which manage to express a visceral vulnerability and human need, awe, strength and resiliency within a turn of a phrase.
Interestingly, during the session the band’s Lawson-Ndu speaks about her own deep, personal experience and love of sci-fi and fantasy and how they’ve influenced her to consider those genres through the experiences of being a woman of color.