Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a bit about the Oakland, CA-based soul pop quintet 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) specializes in a forward-thinking, kaleidoscopic, lush and difficult to pigeonhole sound that frequently incorporates elements of indie rock, R&B, Afro pop, Afrofuturism, jazz, electro pop and experimental pop. Adding to a rapidly growing profile, 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.
“Be Brave” is the first bit of new material from the band in about a year, and the track reveals a band that has further experimented and expanded upon their sound and songwriting. Centered around incredibly dexterous and percolating bass lines, driving percussion and Lawson-Ndu’s sultry cooing, the track shifts and morphs between time signatures and tone in a sinuous and fluid fashion. And yet the song is underpinned by a resilient, life affirming spirit that seems to say, “When the shit hits the fan, be like a shark. Keep on swimming.” As the band’s Lawson-Ndu explains in press notes, “This song, in a way, is a chant and reminder that we have our own set of super powers and a pool of instincts to lean on. I’ve had instances of loss or fear in my life that hold the kind of weight that, in those exact moments, have felt impossible to navigate out of. At times I’ve felt it’s luck that eventually pulls me out, and in other cases I’ve realized that I’m actually rarely helpless; that just by actively moving through life, I’ve collected survival tools along with a growing sense that I’m not alone. It’s often a wonder to have felt something so strongly, but to eventually make it to the other side and know that you’re ok.”
Directed by San Francisco-based filmmaker Dominic Mercurio, the recently released and cinematic visuals for “Be Brave” follows the band’s Sandra Lawson-Ndu alone in a desert landscape and out of water. After finally succumbing to extreme dehydration, she is abducted and revived by strange, fuzzy Jim Henson-like creatures that perform a ritual to revive her — with a major consequence. And while surreal and almost dreamlike, the video thematically focuses on empathy, sacrifice and communal exchange, reminding the viewer that while things seem incredibly bleak that its those deeply human traits that will win out in the end; they always do.