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Belle and Sebastian tinker and evolve on new album

By Danah Bialoruski / For The Pitt News

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Belle and Sebastian

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

Grade: A- 

Almost 20 years in, Belle and Sebastian explores new territory on its ninth album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, but the result is unmistakably true to the band’s history.     

Stuart Murdoch, lead singer and songwriter of the Scottish indie pop act, suffered from myalgic encephalomyelitis — or chronic fatigue syndrome — for seven years before his time with Belle and Sebastian. Murdoch opens the album with an ode to his illness, “Nobody’s Empire.” The piece is the most personal song on the album — and possibly in the band’s career. He croons, “I clung to the bed, and I clung to the past / And I clung to the welcome darkness,” to describe his hellish symptoms. This song goes back to the roots of the band and to where it all began — Murdoch credits his illness as the inspiration for the songs he wrote during the late ’80s and early ’90s, just before classics like Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister were released.

“Nobody’s Empire” dually embodies Belle and Sebastian’s beginnings and where the band seems to be headed. While the song’s melody favors the understated sound of their older records, the lyrics suggest a different direction for the new album. In Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, the delicate, yet full-bodied sound meets a new, energetic dynamism.

With the classic tones of some songs, Belle and Sebastian use Girls in Peacetime as a chance to expand and really develop a new sound — that they don’t fail at. Lead single “The Party Line” hinted to listeners that the new album was not going to be as whimsical as their previous ones. Its high and quick beats are something you might hear at a house party — in certain hip sectors of the country. Their use of more chintzy synths gives the song a sanguine tone. 

Album highlight “The Everlasting Muse” sounds reminiscent of an old-world European polka dance. At first glance, you don’t know what’s to come, but the song really grows and develops into something unexpected. It starts off with smooth bass accompanied by a silky voice before switching to a disorienting polka beat at the chorus. “Be popular, play pop and you will win my love” ties up the end of the song, which describes a boy realizing that his kind — the unpopular and ordinary kid — isn’t good enough to be with the girl of his dreams. He says that the only way this girl will be with him is if he changes and conforms to how his peers act.

Ben H. Allen, producer of Washed Out, Animal Collective, CeeLo Green and more, helmed the album, and the buoyant and floaty sounds on Girls in Peacetime are consistent with much of Allen’s previous work. But Belle and Sebastian take those characteristics and make them fresh, new and their own. The album begins with a more upbeat tempo from the band, peaks in the middle and ends with the melodic sound that is so familiar to old fans. After nearly two decades of mostly consistent records with little tinkering from one release to the next, Belle and Sebastian have used their sophistication to finally explore more experimentation and show that the band has no fear in how the music sounds or where it could end up going.

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Belle and Sebastian tinker and evolve on new album