Belong is a local anomaly: a self-described “New Orleans” band that could seemingly be – in terms of both sound and physical presence – from anywhere but here. After releasing a well-received collection of lengthy guitar-drone endeavors entitled October Language on D.C. label Carpark back in early 2006, the duo – Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones – dropped off the map for about five years before signing to the Chicago-based Kranky Records. With this kind of label-backing, logic should dictate that Belong is the undisputed “Biggest Indie Band” in the city of New Orleans. However, as their relatively un-google-able name began popping up again in 2011, the newest wave of New Orleans music heads were thoroughly unfamiliar with the band’s music, with only the occasionally-knowledgeable insider positing that they (allegedly) stay on the West Bank, but they (categorically) never play live.
A better explanation came from someone who simply guessed, “I think they’re really big in Germany?” If that’s the case, then Belong’s newest offering, Common Era, would have to be the reason, as this time around Dietrich and Jones have traded in some of their conceptual abrasiveness for the airy, subtler abstraction of 1970s krautrock – making it an altogether perfect pairing with Kranky contemporaries Disappears and a perfect fit for German nostalgia fiends familiar with the label’s otherwise avant-garde output. Indeed, there is something undeniably, uniformly European about the entire album, from the haunting, ethereal keys of “A Walk” to the washed out loops and barely-there vocals of the title track.
The stylistic shift from the duo’s debut is most starkly noticeable in Common Era‘s addition of the aforementioned vocals and, most importantly, a rhythm section. Like a sun-warped Cure tape slowed down and played straight into the mic of a four-track, the foundation for nearly every track is a muddy, droning, minimalistic drum loop that – for better or worse – forces otherwise very different songs like “A Perfect Life” and opener “Come See” to sound like ruminations of one another (a result that, if unintentional, is unfortunate in some respects).
Nevertheless, Common Era sounds less like a band abandoning one style for another and more like a necessary expansion of its pedigree. Though the sparse, multi-instrumental vibe of the record gives it a somewhat less personal allure than October Language, Common Era is nonetheless strangely intimate and best experienced alone, either with headphones or through a blaring car stereo.