MUSIC: BELLS ATLAS | By Jonathan Hirsch


Here arrives a band on the scene with music in tow that is intelligent, diverse, and inspired. You can only parse out some influences—soul, R&B, samba, and the polyrhythms of West African music—but no one characteristic can define the sound in a way that does it justice. The only certainty is that, after listening to East Bay–based Bells Atlas, your ears will thank you for the experience.

Sandra Lawson-Ndu and Doug Stuart began collaborating musically in 2010. “Doug and I started working on songs together as more of a recording project,” Lawson-Ndu says, and their first performances as Bells Atlas featured only themselves: “Starting with just the two of us and a loop pedal, we were able to realize a handful of the songs on our own but were wanting to expand on that sound.”

As she explains, there is an exploratory quality to their composition and performance. By adding guitarist Derek Barber and Geneva Harrison on percussion, they were able to really explore new musical directions. Lawson-Ndu notes that Bells Atlas, as a collective, seeks out a sonic quality with its music that is difficult to pin down but unmistakable.

“As a band, we love challenging ourselves to tap into new sounds, grooves, textures, ways to inspire dance, and realms of emotion,” she says. “We dive into and fully embrace sounds that are at first unusual to the ear but ultimately beautiful.”

Nowhere is this quality more clear than in Bells Atlas’s initial three-song EP, on which each song vibrates with groove and intention. The infectiously repetitive melodies, the intricate and offbeat rhythm section, and the crafted contrast between bright, bouncy guitar riffs and the lyrical timbre of Lawson-Ndu’s vocals all combine to make music that is as danceable as it is contemplative. The songs are pulsing with energy, rich with textured builds and complex layering. The collaborative spirit evidenced in the group’s cohesive arrangements really reflects a band that is interested in drawing music out of symmetry.

Bells Atlas has quickly been embraced by the Bay Area music scene. A packed-house show at Amnesia Bar comes to mind, where a sweaty, danced-out audience was rife with whispers about the new mystery band. Lawson-Ndu notes how collaboration within the musical community, and the growing force of East Bay artistic culture, has positively effected Bells Atlas:

“As a band, just from seeking out new groups to play with, I feel as if we have only just begun to unfold some of the diverse pockets of music in the Bay. There’s a great camaraderie among the musicians making it all happen. Everyone cross-pollinates so much within the music community, and it makes the experience that much richer for everyone involved, whether you’re on the stage or in the audience, listening in. As our audience becomes more and more diverse, we get to see ourselves through the eyes of the varying communities here. There’s an infectious energy that is moving around Oakland, and we believe it’s really exciting and important to be a part of it in an active way.”

The band will be releasing a new single on Jan. 10, as well as a new album in the near future. Based on what has emerged so far, Bells Atlas promises to take us places we never knew we needed to go.

Upcoming Shows 2/8 New Parish w/ Trails and Ways 2/23 2/24 Under Cover Presents Kid A bellsatlas.com







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This article was published in:
Music Issue - Released January 2013
Issue 1 / Version 3 | Buy print copy here
Issue 11
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