Belle & Sebastian | Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (Matador)

Belle & Sebastian find a way to move forward by keeping a watchful eye on the past, with their feet set squarely on the dance floor.

 

 

When Scotland’s Belle & Sebastian released Write About Love in 2010, the band seemed to be treading very successful but dangerously formulaic waters. Even their devoted fan base, which yes, is made up of more than just English Lit and Philosophy majors, could easily recognize that their favorite band may be taking it a little too easy on the lazy river. Quality is never a problem with these guys, but maybe they were settling on consistency and not necessarily discovery? 

Almost five years later, the band has reemerged from their recording cocoon with Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. Recorded in Atlanta, Georgia, this is the first album produced by Ben H. Allen III. The band is still composing warmly familiar pop music under the guiding hand of founder/vocalist Stuart Murdoch, but the renewed sense of energy and risk-taking is refreshing good news for long time fans.

“We are out of practice, we’re out of sight/On the edge of nobody’s empire,” sings Murdoch on the opening track “Nobody’s Empire.” This line seemingly encapsulates the band’s recent history with a wink and a nod to new possibilities.

Those new possibilities begin popping up on EDM-influenced tracks like first single “The Party Line,” and the stirring “Play for Today.”  Both tracks see the band indulging in a round of musical risk-taking, seamlessly melding their dance floor ambitions through the prism of their own DNA. Less successful is “Enter Sylvia Path,” a track that that seems to be channeling 80’s era New Order, but without the prerequisite detachment of Bernard Sumner’s icy tenor. 

The sweeping and haunting synths in “The Power of Three” echoes classic Kate Bush, thanks in no small part to vocalist Sarah Martin’s beautifully ethereal voice. Martin also shines on “The Book of You,” a proper glam stomper that infuses the last quarter of the album with a sense of joyful frivolity—not to mention a wonderfully raw and twisting guitar solo that serves to kick the track up a few notches on the cool scale.

“Allie” is the most characteristic of their earlier work, with delightfully Paul Simon-esque syllable-heavy melodies delicately balancing the whimsical and the melancholy. Mr Simon’s influence can also be found in the heavy percussion present on the first few bars of “The Perfect Couple,” which could have fit right at home on his The Rhythm of the Saints album.

“The Cat with the Cream,” with its trancelike heartbeat of a rhythm, touches on personal politics while vaguely yet poetically framing them in a larger, more historical context.

“The Everlasting Muse” boasts sexy bossa nova grooves that unexpectedly morph into a rousing Scottish bar chant with gently plucking mandolin lines tip-toeing gracefully across a bed of Spanish horns.

With equal parts big thoughts, big hearts, and melodies that bounce between the contemplative and the euphoric, Belle & Sebastian find a way to move forward by keeping a watchful eye on the past, with their feet set squarely on the dance floor. A| Jim Ousley

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