Belle & Sebastian – [Album]

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

For a good half a decade, Belle & Sebastian made the kind of florid, ramshackle indie pop that hadn't been seen since the first few albums by the Smiths. While they didn't have a white hot guitar player, they did have an unerring sense of melody and melancholy and the kind of downtrodden, poetic-leaning lyrical bite that was both weirdly androgynous and all too smart. Their low, low profile, use of early '60s typefaces, and monochromatic album art gave them a bookish, increasingly ravenous cult following—the kind that liked buttons and bicycles. This set of BBC recordings captures the group just as they began to boil over and spill into all sorts of media exposure and increased touring schedules and general accessibility. They are ghostly and chiming on "The State That I'm In," assured and soulful on "Lazy Jane," fragile-and-yet-confident on "Slow Graffiti." They are also, which wasn't always apparent, incredibly gifted musicians. By their own admission, their second album If You're Feeling Sinister was a collection of "great songs, played badly." It's something they would overcome in time with mixed results. 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress was a conscious move to play pop music, a remarkable record in many ways, but also the death knell to those who wanted the band to stay an insular little indie pop band forever. But for those who still holding dear to the idea of their mysterious boys (and girls) in their ill-fitting cardigans, stripes, and sensible footwear—this collection is like a full-on diary page full of asexual desire

On the flip-side, this oft-bootlegged Belfast performance from 2001 is practically a letter to Penthouse in comparison. This is where they are seemingly playing for about 500 of their best friends, some of whom are screaming like they are on fire as the band rip (yes, rip) into tracks by the Beatles, the Velvet Underground and Thin Lizzy. It's another mystique-ripper that shows that their years playing up the angle of being shut-ins most who were most likely bullied at any early age was unfounded—they are actually a pretty amazing live band. Shortly after this was recorded, the band went into their first major U.S. tour, proving that their live show was more like Sly and the Family Stone and the Shangri-Las mixed together than any kind of twee, twaddle-fest (although there was some of that). Hell, Stuart Murdoch actually rolled out onstage on a motorcycle at one point. Which brings up the question—Belle & Sebastian: sexy beasts or the sexiest beasts?


The BBC Sessions is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

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