I was tricked by Bellafea. Their 2005 Family Tree EP was beautifully sparse, almost chilling. So when I put in their debut, Cavalcade, and heard the first two tracks, “Depart (I Never Knew You)," and “Bones to Pick” — both barrages of brash dissonant rock reminiscent of At the Drive-In — I felt cheated. Was this the same band?
But in fact, Bellafea’s seemingly newfound aggression and musical urgency does occasionally shine, like in the more straight-ahead, mid-tempo rock of “Geography.” And “Arctic,” with singer/guitarist Heather McEntire pleading “You said it’s over/ But it never/ Even happened,” over an energetic but restrained guitar wail.
Musically, they travel down a proggy punk road already treaded most notably by Pretty Girls Make Graves and Sleater-Kinney. There are lots of musical shifts, and McEntire’s jagged, dissonant-guitar approach is for the most part exciting. But the Pretty Girls Make Graves comparison — like the Sleater-Kinney one — is too apparent. Because Bellafea has all the energy but not enough of the melodic sense of these two models, the comparison only hinders Cavalcade.
Cavalcade is the most appealing when the band lets down its post-punk guard and allows the melodies to breathe, like on “Arctic” and on the enchanting, haunted, and refreshingly slow “Telling the Hour.” The rest of the time, like on “Bones to Pick” and “Run Rabbit Run,” Bellafea’s Sleater-Kinney aping — McEntire has Corin Tucker’s wail down to a science — is, like many of the songs, distracting. The word “relentless” comes to mind throughout the album, but it would be stronger if they tempered some of that energy by taking a cue from their own restrained, emotional back catalog.
When McEntire screams, “They don’t really care for who you are/ Unless your record sells” (“Run Rabbit Run”), she sound trite, which is a risk anyone runs making a confrontational statement. But worse, the song — which belongs in the list of songs Sleater-Kinney rejected for The Woods — represents the album’s essential problem. We’ve heard this all before, and not only do we know exactly where, but we liked it better.