Posted in Album Reviews

Belle & Sebastian – What To Look For In Summer (2020)

What To Look For In Summer (2Cd)

2020 was a strange year for musicians who instead of hitting the road were instead stuck at home making meditation videos. In lieu of touring, Belle & Sebastian released live album, What To Look For In Summer. The tracks were taken from the band’s 2019 world tour and their Boaty Weekender cruise that they organized and headlined. The double album covers songs from the band’s debut Tigermilk through to the EP collection How to Solve Our Human Problems.

The first disc lifts off with crowd favourite “Dirty Dream #2” and 2003 single “Step Into My Office, Baby”.  “Seeing Other People” humorously gets introduced by singer/bandleader Stuart Murdoch as an exploration of “early sexual politics of some of the members of Belle & Sebastian”. An electric guitar riff powers “Wrapped Up In Books” before the first disc closes with highlight “Funny Little Frog” from The Life Pursuit album that gets several whoops from the crowd and terrific backing vocals.

Disc two starts with a couple tracks from breakthrough album If You’re Feeling Sinister including a haunting take on the title track. Ex-bandmember Isobel Campbell gets a shout out at the beginning of early album track “My Wandering Days Are Over”.  The disco gets turned up on “Stay Loose” and the funk turned out on the bass heavy “Poor Boy” with Murdoch and Sarah Martin sharing vocal duties. The disc closes with several classic tracks including “The Boy With the Arab Strap” before Martin brings her best vocal take on penultimate track “I Didn’t See It Coming”.

All fans will have quibbles with some of the track selections but such is the enduring legacy of Belle & Sebastian that virtually all 23 of these tracks could be swapped for others with little dip in quality.  The charm, humour, and musicianship of the band all shine throughout. While nothing will beat an in-person night with Belle & Sebastian, this double disc is sure to delight fans as they wait for the next tour.

8/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Belle & Sebastian – How To Solve Our Human Problems (2018)

51y5TPNQ+vL._AA327_QL65_Way back in the 90s Belle & Sebastian became a much loved band in the world of indie rock. Besides excellent albums such as If You Are Feeling Sinister and The Boy With The Arab Strap, the band released several coveted EPs. In late 2017 and 2018 B&S released three EPs one month apart which were then collected on one disc entitled How To Solve Our Human Problems. This idea recalls the 1997 boxset of three early EPs albeit in different packaging.

The 90s version of the band was known for Stuart Murdoch’s melancholy lyrics about awkward relationships and witty asides but over the years they have blossomed into an excellent band who easily move from ballads and folk-rock to 70s blue eyed funk. “Sweet Dew Lee” is an upbeat opener with a pleasant guitar melody whereas “We Were Beautiful” recalls darker electronics of “Electric Renaissance” from debut album, Tigermilk. “I’ll Be Your Pilot” showcases a beautiful chorus while that EP’s closer “A Plague On All Other Boys” was written after meeting teenage contest winner from the Write About Love era in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. The next EP starts with “Poor Boy” which is all steering wheel tapping funkiness. Album closer “Best Friend” features Carla J Easton and sounds like a more mature take on classic “Lazy Line Painter Jane”.

“Best Friend” aside, female vocals have always been a one of the best things about Belle & Sebastian – from Isobel Campbell in the early years to Sarah Martin from the early 2000s onward. Here the Martin lead tracks are mostly forgettable. “Everything Is Now” appears twice – once as an instrumental and the second time around with lyrics, neither register while the abrasive “Cornflakes” is mostly dreadful. At fifteen songs, How To Solve Our Human Problems has lots to like but little to love. Somewhere within there is a killer 10 track album.

7/10