FUV's New Dig: Belle and Sebastian

Photo by Søren Solkær
by Darren DeVivo | 02/02/2015 | 2:01am

FUV's New Dig album spotlight: Belle and Sebastian

Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance
Belle And Sebastian
Matador Records

For nearly two decades, Belle and Sebastian has been one of Scotland's most endearing and literate bands. These veteran indie-pop darlings, steered by Stuart Murdoch, now present Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance, their first studio album of new material in five years.

The word "dance" is key in the evolution of this album,  bursting with enough pulsing beats and sleek rhythms to inspire longtime fans to dig deep in the back of their closets for mirrored disco balls and glowsticks. That shift to club-ready tracks isn't too much of a surprise, but it does reveal a band brimming with fresh ideas and an eagerness to test new boundaries.

On Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance, Belle and Sebastian shuffle the deck, throw out past formulas and approach their pop purview from a very different angle. It's a bold, admirable move.

Straying far from grey Glasgow, Murdoch and his bandmates recorded the album in sunny Atlanta with Grammy-winning producer and engineer Ben H. Allen III. Allen has considerable experience in hip-hop, dance, alternative rock and pop, working with genre-blurring artists like M.I.A., Animal Collective, Bombay Bicycle Club and Cee-Lo Green. Allen was an intriguing choice for Belle and Sebastian for what is one of the band's most atypical recordings.

From the start of the opening track, the buoyant "Nobody's Empire," a spry backbeat and lively pace sets the tone, belying the semi-autobiographical lyrics about Murdoch's own battle with chronic fatigue syndrome.  Like Murdoch's own God Help The Girl, this album follows the arc of a story and "Allie," which introduces us to Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance's protagonist, is effervescent and brash, steeped in '60s-era pop. A splash of synths and beats gives "The Party Line" and "The Power Of Three" a full dance workout,  the latter song sung by Sarah Martin.

The album's centerpiece is the techno-pop wonder "Enter Sylvia Plath," which sets Stuart Murdoch's poetic lyrics against a propulsive wash of synthesizers. That full-on groove is contrasted by the next tune, "The Everlasting Muse," which alternates between Belle and Sebastian's sweet pop and bursts of rowdy beer hall brass.

"Ever Had A Little Faith?" might be the new album's most obvious representation of a "typical," slightly twee Belle and Sebastian song, but that respite is countered by the dense grooves of "The Book Of You."  The album closer, "Today (This Army's For Peace)," ends the journey on a wistful note.

Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance might be an upbeat response to Murdoch's own health struggles, but it tells a universal tale as it travels from darkness to light, embracing the buoyancy of life. Twenty years into their own complex story, Belle and Sebastian remain a vital and relevant band embarking into another decade of music making.


Preview songs and/or buy 'em (all purchases benefit WFUV):


Weekdays at Noon

Ticket Giveaways from WFUV