Emily Bell. Photo: Eryn Brooke
Depending how old you are, you might not know that at one time, rock n’ roll was all attitude without the recent indie placard placed atop it. While the likes of groundbreaking acts like Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and Joan Jett gave us more attitude than we could handle, when you see that swagger return you can’t help but fall for it all over again. Austin’s Emily Bell has brought that attitude back in full force, offering up an EP full of R&B, soul and Nancy Sinatra undertones that make the record feel like it was made when rock bands were encouraged to be performers first and social media experts second. On Kali, Bell gives us all the attitude and sneer of Mick Jagger through the eyes of a woman, thus giving the listener five songs they can take to the bank, while head bopping to each and every hook filled track.
Things kick off with the track “Can’t Talk Back” where Bell offers up some of that throwback sixties R&B tinged rock that made the genre so irresistible. Opening with horns and handclaps, the guitar is so catchy that you’d swear you’d heard it before. With a backing vocal of sexually charged breaths and Bell’s attitude-based vocals like that of a woman on a mission, when the chorus comes in it hits with intensity and pays off in so many ways. This kind of rock has seemingly been gone from our ears for so long that it’s hard to place where it went. That being said, Bell reminds you why you loved it so while giving every listener a possible anthem for resistance of any kind. Strong and full of fury, the song is so hard to deny that I found myself repeating it no less than six times. This is followed by another swagger-induced banger with “Girls That Never Die.” While the song is at a slower pace, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the same intensity. With drums that sound like they’re being played in a fallout shelter, Bell offers a chorus that doesn’t let up, while coming in like a missile that you weren’t finding on any radar.
The third track, “Goddess of Destruction,” offers up another standout, complete with spacey underpinnings before Bell’s vocals cut through all of the music like a guiding light in a darkened world. If the goal is to make an anthem, then mission accomplished, as an intense guitar drives through with Bell’s fierce vocals and a backing vocal mix, creating a song that could help lead any revolution for the rights of the downtrodden. If you have ever heard a song before where all of the instruments come in with precision and piercing concentration, then this song will make them pale in comparison as the mix of guitar, drums, and bass sound like each instrument was created just to be used as they are here. Bell turns a corner on the torch heavy vibes of “Goldmine,” though the hooks are still just as present. While things are lead by a piano, Bell doesn’t let you forget that this is a rock album as the verse lends to a build of riffs and drums that pay off like finding gold in your backyard.
The soft yet immense depth on the closing track, “Crashing Hearts,” is definitely the best way to close the album off. If the goal here is to leave the listener with a range of depth for Bell, then she’s managed to do her job. The dreamy mix of Bell’s vocals alongside keys and drums is simply masterful, while a grinding guitar keeps the track on the rock side of things. Make no mistake, the song is closer to a ballad than anything else, but it’s a traditional rock ballad and honestly, it’s just another example of how well crafted these songs are. There aren’t too many times when you get to hear a genre return as glorious as it sounded when it left, but by mixing R&B with traditional rock n’ roll, Bell delivers on each track like she’s swinging for the fences. And from the sound of this EP, she’s rounding the bases with each turn at bat.
You can hear “Kali” live and in person when Emily Bell performs in Houston on Saturday, May 13 upstairs at White Oak Music Hall. With an opening set from Houston’s Second Lovers, the all ages show has doors at 8 pm with a measly $8 cover.