Belle & Sebastian Offer a Highly Satisfying New Album

26 Feb

Belle & Sebastian is something of an institution in the indie world, but it’s okay if you haven’t heard of the band. Formed in 1996 in Glasgow, Scotland, they’ve always flown under the radar as an indie pop-rock band with a small, but dedicated group of fans. These followers have ensured that Belle & Sebastian have been successful enough to release nine full-length albums over the past two decades.

For most of that time, the band has specialized in soft, somewhat sentimental rock telling stories that young people who are searching for the meaning of life can easily identify with.

On Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, the band reaches a new level of maturity — both musically and lyrically. Belle & Sebastian have produced a highly engaging collection of songs that range from sensitive folk to jittery European techno-pop — and managed to make it all come together on a single, smart album.

Frontman Stuart Murdoch has written some of his most personal songs to-date, such as the opener, “Nobody’s Empire.” On this track, Murdoch chronicles his years-long battle with chronic fatigue syndrome, describing the impact it has had on his life.

“Lying on my bed, I was reading French/With the light too bright for my senses/From this hiding place, life was way too much/It was loud and rough ‘round the edges/So I faced the wall when an old man called/Out of dreams that I would die there/But a sight unseen, you were pulling strings/You had a different idea.”

The music is poignant, yet vibrant — with shimmering synths, ringing piano, jangling guitar, and a toe-tapping beat. This is one of the best indie pop songs you could ever want to hear.

Throughout the rest of the 12-song set, it’s hard to find a bad track.

There are several throwbacks to the 1960s, including track 2, “Allie.” The song opens with several harmonized “Baa baa baa baaa’s” and goes on to become a bouncy, fun indie rock tune with a strong hook.

The album also features several disco-like techno-pop numbers, including “The Party Line” and “Enter Sylvia Plath.” Plath — an acclaimed poet from Massachusetts — married and lived in England, dying young, a victim of severe depression that led to suicide. Once again, the music provides an uplifting framework for the thoughtful lyrics.

If you’re partial to the traditional Belle & Sebastian, you’ll be happy the band included “Ever Had a Little Faith?” It blends acoustic and jangly guitars, plus harpsichord and synth strings into a gentle, heart-tugging folk-chamber classic.

Finally, my review would not be complete without mentioning “Play for Today.” This is fabulous, danceable 1980s-style synth-pop. Murdoch sings a duet with the Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee Penny, creating a high-energy, yet lightly tripping romp that’s more than seven minutes long.

There are other worthwhile tracks as well — like I said, it’s hard to find a bad song on the album. But whether this is your introduction to Belle & Sebastian or the band is a long-time favorite, don’t miss Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.

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