Warm synthesized disco beats explode in witty tempos and dreamy mood changers for this politically themed new release from the poignant indie pop group who brought us best-selling records: Boy with the Arab Strap (1998) and Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2005)
Releasing their first album since 2010, Belle and Sebastian surprises us, in 2015, with Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, an album that breathes new life into their pioneered style of worldly modern, yet ageless, hazy pop-infused folk painted with golden lyrics. I would describe Murdoch’s vocal-style as Morrissey-like (Huge fan of The Smiths), only they don’t give that whole, “Hey, what’s the point of it all? We should probably kill ourselves, now. Like RIGHT NOW,” but they do quite the opposite; they give you hope in a melancholic fashion and a reason to fight the daily drudge.
The album takes a political direction, but without losing the timeless storytelling and poetic pop verses this group is known for. Love the melancholy-fused dancing disco! We hear it in the first track, “The Party Line,” as the upbeat dance groove sets the mood over lyrics like “People like to shoot at things with borrowed guns and knives./ There is nobody here,/ but your body, dear.” And we hear it on other tracks like “The Power of Three” with a powerful synth opening and 50’s diner guitar. The album has everything from energetic funk grooves to 70’s disco beats to the band’s special brand of polka like we see dropped as the chorus in “The Everlasting Muse.” The song starts out with lofty cafe-style vocals and quick guitar up-strokes and then mixes things up with Spanish trumpets and carousing polka.
I was first drawn to this band by the eclectic sound that seemed so simple for Murdoch and the crew; they reminded me of The Velvet Underground reincarnated into something more available and relatable to the present dreamy-eyed youth.
Even with heavy synthesized songs like “Play for Today” (Great lyrics! Pure poetry: “Love is a guide/ The endless river of the soul/ But we are mean/ The dried up riverbeds of rock and stone/ Lust is my friend/ She comes to me when I am tired”), I’ve got the ninth track, “Ever Had a Little Faith,” on repeat. It revels in the sound I fell in love with when I listened to Boy with the Arab Strap many years ago. The song plays like a beacon of hope. I love the blithesome beat, the weeping violin and rich candid lyrics like “roll away the stone of doubt,” and “passion beating on your brow.” Near the end, the song goes into repeat with the message, “Something good will come from nothing.”
I would recommend this album to almost anyone. Belle and Sebastian contains a wide array of influences from witty pop to aesthetic folk to feet-clapping polka, and casts a long range of moods from vibrant party tunes to get-through-the-day pop ballads to butterflies-in-your-stomach love songs, but their style is marked with originality. And over the years, they have honed the edges and corners perfected their brand of timeless music.