Belle and Sebastian: The Life Pursuit (pt. 2)

belleandsebastian

Dear Matt,

I’m a fan of feelings. I have a whole bunch of them — possibly something close to a complete set. Certainly, more than anybody would suspect from actually talking to me.

But, before I talk about feelings, I want to talk about facts.

One sure way for any band to pull me in is to make references that I understand. Lyrical references, stylistic references, whatever. And as you’ve implied a couple of times already, Belle and Sebastian live comfortably within my cultural sphere — namely, an imagined version of the ’60s that neither I nor Stuart Murdoch can claim to remember.

Actually, the references here span a larger swathe of my knowledge even than that. Did you know, for instance, that Mornington Crescent is a recurring feature on a popular BBC comedy programme, in which panelists take turns naming London tube stations until somebody says ‘Mornington Crescent?’ It’s the British equivalent of Calvinball. No idea what, if anything, that has to do with the song.

But I promise that I didn’t only like The Life Pursuit because it flatters me for my understanding of references that I might actually just be imagining. Ultimately, I am just a sucker for a great melody, and there are plenty of them here. I mean, the shapes of the phrases in ‘The Blues Are Still Blue’ are just irresistible. And that trumpet in ‘Dress Up In You.’ Ahh.

And you’re right that they can sound a lot like the Zombies sometimes. Although, I think that what they have in common is more of a spirit than a sound. Both bands produce a kind of music that I’ve never quite been able to adequately describe: it is natural music. It seems obvious, self-evident, like it could have written itself. There’s no artifice to it. Other artists that come to mind are Paul McCartney and Felix Mendelssohn.

But here’s the thing: I can think of exactly nothing else interesting to say about this. My usual approaches are failing me, here. I don’t feel alienated by The Life Pursuit, nor did it leave me feeling inclined to compose a fawning encomium. It doesn’t suggest a particular part of my musical autobiography that I could riff on. I do not detect any actual magic in it.

Don’t interpret any of this as a vote of no enthusiasm. I can tell I’ll be spinning The Life Pursuit with some frequency in the near future. It’s just… here we are right now with you saying you liked the Zombies, but you’ll never like them as much as Belle and Sebastian. Here I am saying I liked Belle and Sebastian, but I’ll never like them as much as the Zombies. To be fair, a certain amount of intransigence is to be expected with music nerds like us.

But, you’ll recall that when we started this project, I expressed a concern that my musical tastes were calcifying. It’s still a concern. There’s a part of me that despairs to think that at the age of 24, I’ve already reached the point where I’ll never find new music that I like better than my old music.

And, The Life Pursuit somehow really brought that anxiety to the surface. Because I liked it. I really did. I’ve liked nearly everything you’ve assigned so far. Loved some of it. But none of it has knocked me flat like the prog I discovered in high school, or the classical rep that my first degree introduced me to.

Two months into this project, we’ve both got more music that we kind of like. Surely, this is an entirely acceptable outcome. So, why does it feel like an impasse?

— Matthew

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