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Belle and Sebastian - A Bit of Previous Music Album Reviews

Belle and Sebastian - A Bit of Previous Music Album Reviews
The Scottish band’s first studio album in seven years considers the importance of togetherness with clear, aphoristic language and a few musical experiments.

The core tenet of Belle and Sebastian has always been connection. The long-running Scottish indie-pop project was born out of necessity as bandleader Stuart Murdoch struggled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which yanked him from bright twentysomething adventures into the shadows of invisible illness. When he had the energy, Murdoch would tinker on his parents’ piano and attempt to give shape to the songs forming in his head. As his health slowly improved, Murdoch began pursuing his art more seriously and eventually enlisted a group of musicians to record Belle and Sebastian’s 1996 debut, Tigermilk. Since then the project has sustained its insular core while stretching into a communal affair that features a vast cast of players, album covers that picture friends and strangers alike, and invigorating concerts in which fans are invited to dance onstage. Every avenue they’ve pursued seems to say: Anyone can channel the Belle and Sebastian spirit.

It’s appropriate, then, that Belle and Sebastian would emerge from a period of widespread isolation with a collection of songs that consider the importance of togetherness. The seven-piece band’s 10th album, A Bit of Previous, is a full-circle gesture: It’s their first full-length to be fully recorded in their native Glasgow since 1999, a move which proved fruitful on a trilogy of EPs released between 2017 and 2018, a series of exhalations harkening back to a similar run of short-form projects in the late ’90s. Even the album title, a turn of phrase used by bassist Bobby Kildea’s father to winkingly acknowledge past relationships, points toward their nostalgic impulses.

A Bit of Previous begins with “Young and Stupid,” a burst of wry sunshine that Belle and Sebastian have historically done so wonderfully. They’ve still got it: Murdoch’s droll reflections on youthful bliss are heightened by a flitting violin and a heavenly little bridge that flies high with a trumpet and Sarah Martin’s topline vocals. The song concludes with a spoken-word outro pulled from an interview Murdoch conducted with his friend Alessandra Lupo—the pair previously collaborated on an audio-visual piece during the early days of the pandemic—that lands on an existential musing: “Nothing matters.” What could sound like a declaration of nihilism is instead presented as an optimistic perspective shift. If there’s a wistfulness for youth, there’s also an urgency not to waste life trapped in a miserable bubble of one’s own making. “I lived my life so desperate to be in control/Scared of getting hurt again,” Murdoch emphatically declares on “Talk to Me, Talk to Me.” “But now I realize it’s all for nothing/All for nothing!”

The compassionate ballad “Do It for Your Country” transforms a patriotic catchphrase into a mantra urging a woman not to underestimate herself. “The world is just a game, something made of clay/But you are the great creator,” Murdoch sings. “So banish all your fears, grab it by the ears/Love and other things of beauty reign.” The band also acknowledges that this carpe diem attitude is easier preached than practiced: On the same track, Murdoch refers to himself as a “lobster in a pot/a songbird in a gilded nightmare.” Who is he to be offering advice about freedom?

If the lyrics share a tight thematic focus, the music is where Belle and Sebastian stretch their legs. Sonically, A Bit of Previous touches on a little bit of everything. The band’s last full-length, 2015’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, went heavy on the Big Pop vibes, occasionally at the expense of lyricism. Pared-down traces of that grooviness appear in the bright synth swirls of “Talk to Me, Talk to Me” and on Sarah Martin’s feminist electro anthem “Reclaim the Night.” Stevie Jackson takes the reins on the country ballad “Deathbed of My Dreams,” which is just the right amount of morose. On the soulful “If They’re Shooting at You,” Murdoch and co. are joined by a choir led by vocalist Anjolee Williams, further amplifying its message of endurance. None of these twists or turns feel abrupt—Belle and Sebastian, after all, once threw a synth-pop stunner into an album of quiet indie tunes. Even when they are experimenting, the best parts of their identity shine through.

Belle and Sebastian have never been short of wise words, but over the years, as their songs have grown less character-driven, they’ve gravitated toward clear, aphoristic language that cannot be misunderstood. Perhaps that is the result of graceful aging; perhaps it’s Murdoch’s interest in Christian and Buddhist thought. Either way, this approach feels exceptionally wholehearted on A Bit of Previous, especially in the final moments. On “Sea of Sorrow,” Murdoch admits that words—the vehicle for so much happiness, so much anxiety—are just words, and it’s up to us how we process them. And then there’s “Working Boy in New York City.” This ditty about a young person searching for their true self is delightfully on-brand for the group, from its charming title and easygoing melody to the themes of spirituality, queerness, and loneliness. “Once you are happy and you know yourself/Peace can come in your heart/You can make a new start,” Murdoch sings. It sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Belle and Sebastian - A Bit of Previous Music Album Reviews Belle and Sebastian - A Bit of Previous Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Saturday, May 14, 2022 Rating: 5

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