Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Belle & Sebastian-If You're Feeling Sinister

Part 3 of the Sophomore Success series:

Belle and Sebastian are a band that survive almost exclusively on cult status. They've garnered a few more listeners after their songs were featured in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Juno, but like Stuart Murdoch (leader of the group) said "It's not like we're a big famous band. I really can't imagine anyone saying "ooh, I can't wait for the new Belle & Sebastian record."
I guess I'm one of the few that would like to hear a new B&S record but the closest thing we'll get to that now is God Help The Girl. This is a project of Stuart's in which all of B&S plays except him. He wrote this musical and hired three different females to sing all the songs he wrote. I've heard snippets. It's a pretty cool soul thing. There were hints of a soul direction on the last B&S record The Life Pursuit. But it also marked a big turn/departure in their sound and a lot of fans jumped off the band wagon. Life Pursuit had a lot of songs with a Northern Soul or T. Rex rock sound. Several critics and fans cried fowl "Why can't they make stuff like If You're Feeling Sinister anymore." To which I reply "Why don't you just go listen to your CD then if you want to hear stuff like that?"
I like it when bands change up their sound a bit and are still good. The Beach Boys, Rush, TMBG, Belle and Sebastian, Bowie, and Zappa. They all did it and still put out good stuff. If You're Feeling Sinister is one of those records that's mentioned on so many critics lists as an album you have to hear. So, here I am another critic telling you yes you must hear it.
Let's start this review off with a warning that may sound like I don't want you to get this CD, but oh my friends, I do. First off I have a few friends that don't like B&S because Stuart has a "weird voice". That's fine, Bob Dylan has a "weird voice" and what we must remember is that like Dylan, Stuart is an excellent songwriter and these songs have heart. Secondly, the CD is poorly recorded, even though it's some of the best songs he wrote at times it sounds like a demo rather than a master. Finally, if folky "twee-pop" isn't your thing you probably won't dig it. That being said if you're in, I'm in.
The CD opens with the brilliant track "The Stars of Track and Field" and closes with the sad yet hopeful "Judy and the Dream of Horses". The reason I love this album is that every track reminds you of some experience in your life whether it's something you've actually dealt with or someone you've known experienced. It's a perfect lazy Sunday sit in your bedroom type record. Some critics compared it to Nick Drake's work. I love Nick but the only comparison I could draw was that both artists music is timeless because of the wonderful stories told through the characters in the songs. Stuart's writing is a bit like Morrisey in the sense that it's poetic and there is some clever humor mixed in with the sadness. The lyrics wonderfully off-set the music. The music has some sad tones but over all has a little jaunt in it and when set against melancholy lyrics it just works. Kind of like chocolate and peanut butter, you get the salty and the sweet and all is right with the world.

Enjoy it or don't.

Darren Menendez

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