On the heels of Skyscraper’s relaunch, we’ve been reviewing a number of records from mid-to-late 2010 that we missed out on covering during our semi-hiatus. Sort of a “what we missed” series of reviews, emphasizing both some of the best releases of 2010 and some of the year’s most interesting but overlooked records. This is one of those.
Nice work, Belle and Sebastian. I really like your smart, peppy new album – it’s one of your very best. Sorry it took me so long to review it. “I’m Not Living in the Real World” is especially great, and surprising with its mad freak-beat pop reminiscent of vintage Television Personalities – way to go. I had feared I would be let down for some reason, or maybe it was because I had glutted myself on your band’s output at a few points over the years and at some level didn’t exactly ache to the core of my soul to hear your (brill) new platter, and subconsciously delayed listening to it. Though I must say, I have always liked you precious, precocious Glaswegians since picking up the US promo single of “Like Dylan in the Movies” for 50-cents at Cheapo Discs in Boulder during late 1996, after having read about you in the NME or Melody Maker (RIP). Well, I confess, I was wrong to delay letting this sweet music flow into my opened eardrums, since frankly it gives me considerable pleasure and deftly deploys a variety of moods and styles.
The use of various retro synthesizer textures in some songs is an especially cool addition to the indie guitar strum and jangle. I was prepared for the possibility of being let down and having to write a lukewarm review, but this album is very good, unusually pretty, and full of life instead of despair. Stuart Murdoch’s melancholic or winsome vocals are ace, as usual, and are complemented prettily by Sarah Martin’s harmonies on some songs (such as the lovely ballad “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John”). Throw on your comfy vintage cardigan sweater, don spectacles, sip your coffee, and surround yourself with books for maximum effect. The pop stylings and arrangements of the 1960s and 1970s appear to be a big influence for Murdoch and company. Not a big surprise. “Ghost of Rockschool” is classic mid-tempo B&S material, but it begins like the Grateful Dead’s “Box of Rain” – not at all a bad thing in my mind. The production on the drums, for example, is very 1970s sounding, with muted tom-toms for that retro studio perfection. The slight surprise is the higher proportion of upbeat or even perky pop songs (such as “I Want the World to Stop,” an instant-classic B&S tune), which comes without sacrificing the more downbeat, wistful material characterizing much of their early output. I am sometimes reminded of The Beautiful South, Donovan, and especially this time, Prefab Sprout.
This is totally classic Belle and Sebastian with a bit more energy or pep in their step (see the come-on-get-happy title track single or “Come on Sister” with its chirpy, synthesizers). Write About Love consolidates this Scottish band’s strengths with verve, wit, and an extra dose of caffeine.Visit: Belle and Sebastian | Matador
Purchase: Insound | eMusic