Belle and Sebastian: Like Dylan in the Movies

Autumn is here and Write about Love is the perfect soundtrack to those weekends trips to renaissance fairs, Oktoberfest or just hanging out reading a book on your back porch.

You can take the boy out of the twee, but you can’t take the twee out of the boy. Stuart Murdoch is the mastermind as well as primary singer/songwriter behind Belle and Sebastian since forming the group in 1996. The act is often described as Glasgow, Scotland’s answer to The Smiths.  B & S perform melancholic pop songs that owe debt to 60’s baroque-popsters such as The Zombies and The Left Banke, as much as they owe a nod to The Smiths and Nick Drake.

Belle and Sebastian are often described as Twee Pop, a media tag used to describe acts such as The Pastels, The Shop Assistants and an earlier incarnation of Primal Scream. All of these groups share a formal connection with Scotland, Belle and Sebastian’s home country. Despite being name checked in John Cusack’s 2000 film High Fidelity, as well as being included on the Juno soundtrack, B & S remain largely a cult act.

We have not seen a release from Belle and Sebastian since the career highlight 2006’s The Life Pursuit which found the act flexing their up-tempo pop muscles and gaining new fans along the way. Since the release of The Life Pursuit, Murdoch took a detour into movie soundtracks.   The wonderfully written and recorded “God Help the Girl” soundtrack saw Murdoch playing tribute to the girl groups of the 60’s.

2010 has been an incredible year for music so far, with many fantastic releases which will surely be competing for that coveted top 10 spot in many albums of the year lists. Write about Love, Belle and Sebastian’s newest album released on Matador Records on October 11th, 2010 will likely end up on these various top 10 lists come January. The most surprising aspect of WAL is the collaboration between Murdoch and Norah Jones (yes, that Norah Jones, coffee house queen of jazz-lite, and daughter of Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar) on Track 5. “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John” which surprisingly is a subtle yet effective tribute to 70’s A.M. Pop.

WBL opens with “Didn’t See It Coming”, sung by bandmate Sarah Martin,  who opens her vocals with “make me dance/ I want to surrender” over a looping drum break and swirling moog-synth lines. Later into “DSIC” Martin is joined by Murdoch, who harmonizes over the main refrain “make me dance/ I want to surrender.”

Belle and Sebastian are relatively known as a Chamber Pop act, an act who writes baroque anthems for literate fans who seek solace in book-worm-ish anthems such as “wrapped up in books” from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress.” Over the years Murdoch’s vision towards the band has grown more ambitious, starting as a lo-fi pastoral act to a now full blown pop group with ambitious album productions that match the sharp and clever songwriting.

The most surprising aspect of Write About Love is it’s familiar yet fresh take on the acts past masterpieces such as the Boy with the Arab Strap, up to The Life Pursuit. WAL is very much a continuation of The Life Pursuit, Murdoch’s songs sound like lost Nick Drake tracks by Bob Dylan’s backing band on Blood on the Tracks. The title track, as well as the album’s first single bounces along like a late 60’s Zombies track with a bouncy beat, staccato guitar lines and a harmony vocal blend shared between Murdoch and Martin. “Write about Love” is a charming Mod-Pop number that will surely please the ears of music lovers everywhere.

Track 7. “I Am Not Living in the Real World” is downright up tempo and joyful, the tracks makes you just want to jump and shout for joy; this is an infectious track. “I Am Not Living in the Real World” could very well become an escapist anthem for those of us stuck in a cubicle for 8 hrs a day, 40 hrs a week. We now have a track we can play on repeat over and over, while we dream of a life more glamorous than our own.

I am truly digging the various stylistic shifts and departures that Murdoch takes on the album; I can hear A.M. Soft Rock Pioneers Bread throughout, as well as nods to Captain and Tennille, Dolly Parton, and 60’s girl groups such as The Ronettes. I am also surprised to hear bits that wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-90’s Morrissey album.

Autumn is here and Write about Love is the perfect soundtrack to those weekends trips to renaissance fairs, Oktoberfest or just hanging out reading a book on your back porch. For sometime I was afraid that Belle and Sebastian had sailed into the sunset, and I am relieved that they are back and as strong as ever. So check it out, you’ll be surprised.

Make me dance/ I want to surrender ~ I Didn’t See It Coming


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Posted October 25, 2010 07:10 pm
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