A decade after forming as a college project in Glasgow,
Scotland, Belle and Sebastian have been skirting self-parody
for several years now. After peaking with 1998's "The Boy
With the Arab Strap" and 2000's "Fold Your Hands Child, You
Walk Like a Peasant," the group's fragile, orchestrated
folk-rock -- some have hailed its dainty melodies and
poetic/literary lyrics as paradigms of an indie-rock
subgenre called "twee pop" -- had become ever-more precious
and predictable, almost unbearably so. But the group takes
some unexpected detours on its seventh album.
Trading the fog and rain of the British Isles for the
sunny warmth of Los Angeles and recording with veteran Beck
collaborator Tony Hoffer, the band has crafted its most
upbeat and instantly accessible effort, upping the tempo
considerably on many of the 13 tracks, and riding some
seductive soul, funk and glam-rock grooves. Belle and
Sebastian get funky? Yes, you read that right, and it
actually works: Nobody ever said that violins and clarinets
can't have soul.
Whether primary songwriter Stuart Murdoch and his
bandmates have finally decided to broach the mainstream
after 10 years' devotion to indie obscurantism, or they want
to reclaim the spotlight from more recent twee competitors
such as the Decemberists, they benefit from the emphasis on
simpler, jauntier melodies. And in "Sukie in the Graveyard,"
they even poke gentle fun at themselves and their followers,
telling the tale of "the kid [who] liked to hang out at
the art school / She didn't enroll, but she wiped the floor
with all the a--holes." All attempted indie-rock
sell-outs should be this endearing.