Belle and Sebastian: The Life Pursuit (pt. 1)

belleandsebastian

Dear Matthew:

How do you feel about Feelings? Because it has come to my attention since my last post that you’ve never listened to any Belle and Sebastian.

You may recall that I have previously described the Glaswegian indie pop legends as one of the staple bands mopey college kids were listening to in the mid 2000s. Along with Rilo Kiley, LCD Soundsystem, Bright Eyes, Tegan and Sara, etc., these guys were the bread and butter of a particular variety of melancholy music nerd when I was finishing high school/starting university — I know you know the type. Belle and Sebastian are more than a little twee, and the word ‘wistful’ seems to have been invented specifically to describe both the lyrics and delivery of frontman and main songwriter Stuart Murdoch — who, as previously discussed, may in fact be some sort of ageless time traveller who has been making pop music in Great Britain since the ’60s. Belle and Sebastian is a band that runs entirely on nostalgia and hooks. I love them, obviously.

The hardest part of this assignment has been deciding which album to start you out with. Most B&S diehards will tell you that their second album, 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, is their undisputed masterpiece, and that you should start there. That’s what I did initially, though, and I wasn’t exactly blown away. I filed them away as one of those bands that other people love fanatically that I just don’t ‘get,’ like the Smiths or Bob Marley. It wasn’t until I gave 2006’s The Life Pursuit a spin that I really got hooked. It’s a much peppier, catchier, less despondent, more energetic, more radio-friendly affair than — well, than any of their previous records, really, while still being undeniably a Belle and Sebastian record. Sure, it doesn’t have any ‘classics’ like ‘The Boy With the Arab Strap‘ or ‘I’m a Cuckoo,’ and the first track is a bit of a slow burner compared to the tremendous numbers that start their two most recent albums. But if I was going to list what it has got, I would just end up writing out most of the track list. This is a very easy album to like, and I want you to like this band.

This brings up an interesting question about ‘getting into’ bands with big catalogues and huge fanbases that I’ve struggled with for a while. Most such bands do have a particular album commonly agreed upon as their magnum opus that most fans will point you toward: Daft Punk has Discovery, the Beach Boys have Pet Sounds, Pink Floyd has The Dark Side of the Moon, etc. But as often as not, a band’s so-called ‘classic’ album doesn’t end up being the one that hooks me. I didn’t get into Tegan and Sara until I listened to Sainthood and I didn’t get into Rilo Kiley until I listened to Under the Blacklight, which to ardent fans of those bands is kind of like saying I didn’t get into Talking Heads until I listened to … I don’t know, any album that isn’t Remain in Light. It’s ass-backwards from the conventional wisdom, is what I’m saying — and also what I’m assigning you here. So we’ll see how it goes.

So, like many a white kid before you, let these pop hooks and pleasing chord progressions grab you and pull you into a world of utterly enjoyable despair. Really get some catharsis happening. And try to make it last, because two weeks from now, you are going to be listening to some of the most insane bleep-bloop electronic bullshit I know.

—Matt

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