Albums, Music, The Revue — March 1, 2018 at 5:05 am

Belako – ‘Render Me Numb, Trivial Violence’ (album review)


Spain’s indie scene is flourishing, and the world is taking notice. Most people are fixated on Hinds’ forthcoming sophomore album, but their attention should be on the Basque town of Mungia. This is where Belako call home. Since 2011, the quartet of Cristina Lizarraga, Josu Ximun Billelabeitia, Lander Zalakain Martinez, and Lore Nekane Billelabeitia have been causing tremors across the Iberian Peninsula with their blend of post-punk, indie-rock, krautrock, and electro-rock. They are, in other words, the country’s answer to Savages, Wolf Alice, Warpaint, and Foals. Last Thursday, they shared their outstanding new album, Render Me Numb, Trivial Violence.

Render Me Numb, Trivial Violence is fifty-one minutes of pure adrenaline. It is seismic, propulsive, and fierce in its delivery, making the LP one of the year’s very best. Most albums, even the great ones, will have two, maybe three fantastic openers. Belako’s third efforts commences with five. It all begins with the “Maskenfreiheit”, which is a German phrase that means freedom conferred by masks. The song is a dark, sinister, and explosive banger meant to haunt your dreams and leave you in a delirious state. The bass line is terrific while the synths are wickedly daunting. Front woman Cristina’s piercing vocals, meanwhile, wails with the crippling power of Kate Bush. Her lyrics, too, channel the Goth-rock legend, as she wonders aloud whether we can reveal our true selves in this day and age of social media, manipulation, and surveillance.

Even more explosive is “Lungs”, which is like a freight train hurtling at 300 km/hour and nothing can stop it. The feverish dueling guitars and the hammering percussion drive the tune, and they guide Cristina’s story of a person trapped by other people’s expectations. The walls eventually cave in to the point she can no longer breathe and recognize herself. Josu shares the vocal leads with Cristina on the titanic “Two Faced Simulation”, which blares with the intensity and the politically-charged lyricism of INHEAVEN.

Things then literally go “Over the Edge”, which is another super-charged track. While the other songs featured awesome songwriting, Cristina and Josu turn into storytellers. They describe one woman’s escape from her abuser, and her friends desire for vengeance. The line, “I’ll find your friend and break his legs”, will stick with you for days. A permanent mark will be left by “Nice Church”, however, for a different reason. A searing krautrock approach emerges, and one that echoes the music that once filtered through the gallows of Berlin’s underground clubs.

Things settle down with “Stumble”, although only slightly. As the instrumentation slowly builds to create a cascading soundscape, Cristina looks introspectively and partially reveals her fears. The piano-driven, lo-fi “Stumble II” is the continuation of the story. Cristina’s voice sounds like she’s drowning, as if life is leaving her. The two songs are also the segues to the album’s second half, which is less boisterous but still eye-opening.

“Strangers In a Box”, which is a sultry, film-noir number from the ’70s. The volume increases on “Render Me Numb”, which echoes the fuzzed-out pop-rock coming out of Scandinavia. While the band sings about feeling numb to the overwhelming chaos in the world, the song also describes how certain governments are paralyzed to act despite the lives lost.

Disco-pop is on order with “The Fiend Thinker”, which at first seems a bit out of place. At the same time, the track displays the band’s versatility, where they can still deliver an enrapturing story through a different sonic prism. Belako get back on the saddle with the jittery and intoxicating “Something to Adore (Arinau)”, which features some terrific percussion and Lore’s beautifully angst vocals. On Hegodun Baleak II, the quartet channel Sonic Youth, delivering a hazy, delirious indie rocker. Even Josu’s vocals are reminiscent of Thurston Moore in a dream state.

The album concludes with the short and steely “Maskenfreiheit II”. The masks are removed at this point, and identifies are revealed. Secrets, though, remain. It’s a great ending to a fantastic record because Belako, like how they started the LP, leave us in wonderment. They leave us contemplating what will happen next and, more importantly, why so many have yet to discover them. All, though, will soon know their secret, especially after releasing one of the year’s great albums.

Render Me Numb, Trivial Violence is out now via Primavera Sound’s in-house label El Segell.

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