The debut album from Milwaukee, Wisconsin based four piece RedBelt, Beautiful Surround, is a thirteen song opus that keeps a sharply honed focus on performing compact and powerful rock songs with a penchant for big choruses. The songwriting has a lot of rough hewn melodic virtues and a variety of influences that never announce themselves. Instead, those influences are filtered through the band’s experiences and songwriting sensibility to form a signature style. In the end, style is one of the most important qualities that artists possess. There is much about RedBelt’s Beautiful Surround that sounds familiar, but there’s as much about it that sounds like no one else could have played this music or recorded these songs other than RedBelt.
“Crossed Wires” shows off the band’s punk influences, but never in an artless way. The two guitar attack that the band wields blasts is anchored by lead singer Kevin Brown’s forceful rhythm guitar, but lead guitarist Mike Mann provides considerable and surprisingly un-cliched flair with great lead breaks and an assortment of hot licks. The rhythm section flies like an unstoppable train thanks to the precise and power of drummer Jeff Holden. The romping and swinging drums pushing “American Mercy” along are quite memorable, but the added touch of three part vocal harmonies elevates it even further. Brown’s lead vocal, however, is dramatic enough to carry the track single-handedly and every other vocal addition is just gravy. “Got It Made (I Know, You Know)” is a tough meat and potatoes rocker with a sharp commercial edge and excellent band interplay, particularly between the drums and bass.
“Beautiful Surround”, the album’s title cut, comes at an excellent spot in the track listing and exhibits much of the same melodic focus that makes the best tracks stand out. Kevin Brown’s vocals are quite inspired here. There’s a lot classic rave-up rock and roll guitar that makes “30 Seconds” go, but the highest musical point comes from Jeff Holden’s often primal and, other times, tastefully challenging drumming. It’s also quite nice to hear them turn in a song running less than three minutes in length that doesn’t rely on their punk rock influences but, instead, soars with melodic energy. The punk-level energy returns on “Throw Away” and the lyrical material, like many other tracks on Beautiful Surround, has a hard-boiled slant that nicely matches the arrangement and playing.
Mike Mann’s guitar steps back for the vast majority of “Bones” only to come in very dramatically in the song’s second half. This is a performance dominated, primarily, by another superb Kevin Brown vocal and great chemistry between the rhythm section. The album’s final cut, “Hard Light”, is a concluding guitar work out with crashing chords and a great feel thanks to the way it seems to be constantly winding itself up to hit the listeners again with another shot of rock. The three part vocals work quite well here and are laid out in an ideal way. It ends Beautiful Surround quite nicely thanks, in no small part, to the band’s refusal to be too predictable. Anyone expecting another uptempo barnburner or some extended track will be surprised when they get neither. RedBelt offers us much that we’ve heard before, but they are braver than many young bands and carry themselves in quite a distinctive way on Beautiful Surround.