Olga Bell is a student both of classical piano, composition and songwriting, and of the indie rock tradition. The prodigy and graduate of the New England Conservatory toured with synth-pop powerhouses Dirty Projectors and Chairlift from 2011 to 2013, and most recently released her folkloric record Krai, inspired by her Russian roots. The fusion of her obvious mastery of composition, with her consciousness of an indie pop sound has gifted us with her eviscerating and tender new single “Rubbernecker.”
However, in rejection of the chirpy, playful tunes of her previous indie-pop appointments, there’s nothing jaunty about “Rubbernecker.” The tune is an undeniable heartbreak track. Beginning with Bell’s nectar-like vocals over soft melancholy piano, she begs, “Please don’t tell me it’s an omen”; her voice, getting more powerful with every measure, interspersed with electronic taps and shimmering swells of synths.
The bass gets deeper and bigger, and her voice becomes less melodic and predictable, dissonantly reminiscent of St. Vincent or Björk. Suddenly the track violently crescendoes like a punch to the gut, the orchestral swell almost overpowering Bell’s throbbing, resilient cry: “Don’t worry about a rain check with me.”
She tricked us into listening to some sweetsad synth pop, and then ambushes us with this feminine orchestral tsunami of contempt and heartbreak — like an art-pop P!nk or Gwen Stefani. Evaporating as quickly as it came, the ephemeral sonic assault quiets as if we had just been fiddling with the volume dial. Leaving us with a lump in our throats, she sings, her voice breathy and cracking, “So call me careless, call me rash, but please don’t tell me that I should feel lucky to walk away.”
“Rubbernecker” is an exhausting track; a hurricane — the volatile storm and cease of her vocals paralleling a certain messy romantic turmoil we’re all familiar with. Luckily for us, though, her pain makes for a gorgeous song and a study in electronic production. Perhaps if “Rubbernecker” is lacking in any capacity, it is just slightly over-varnished, and perhaps a little slack, or roughness would have been refreshing.
However, I’m definitely not complaining. Olga Bell can serenade my romantic angst any time.
By CHRIS STANTON
“I’ve seen dynamite on the streets,” narrates Killer Mike on the intro to rap duo Run the Jewels’ new single, “Rubble Kings Theme (Dynamite).” The voiceover gives way to an absolutely spastic instrumental courtesy of Little Shalimar, as Killer Mike and El-P, his partner in mayhem, get to work doing what they do best. Each of the spry 40-year-old MCs struggled for years to make a name for themselves, earning underground credibility in their respective hometowns of Brooklyn and Atlanta, while largely failing to captivate wider audiences. After meeting each other in 2011, El-P agreed to produce an entire album for Killer Mike (entitled R.A.P. Music). Their chemistry proved so undeniable that the two rappers toured together before recording their first album as a duo, 2013’s Run the Jewels. While mildly popular, the album’s success was easily eclipsed by 2014’s Run the Jewels 2, a project that launched the duo into a new stratosphere of popularity and critical acclaim. Their underdog story makes every RTJ song feel simultaneously like a riot and a victory lap, as the bombastic production clashes with alternately political and braggadocio rhymes.
“Rubble Kings Theme (Dynamite)” does not break the successful RTJ mold, nor is it a great song in comparison to some of the better cuts off RTJ2. Still, as a non-album single (it features on the soundtrack to the new documentary Rubble Kings) it’s a welcomed appetizer for next year’s RTJ3. Mike and El-P each fit in some great bars, playing off the anti-institution tropes that made “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” arguably the best rap song of last year. Over the hectic vocal loop that provides the beat’s backbone, El-P refers to himself and Killer Mike as “wolves to the bitter finish,” a declaration that could very well be the group’s mission statement.