12/10/2015

Retrospective: Belle and Sebastian - "Fold Your Hands..."

Belle and Sebastian - Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant
(2000 Jeepster)

Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch has the uncanny knack for writing Salingerian coming-of-age tunes that grow alongside the listener. I’d first encountered the Scottish twee-pop outfit’s work in my early elementary school career through my parents’ small but gem-riddled CD collection that followed our family on minivan expeditions to school or church. Even among the likes of Cocteau Twins’ Heaven or Las Vegas or a Simon and Garfunkel hits compilation, it was Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister that always demanded my attention, its cover a brooding, bruised red and its title vague and cryptic. The music swirled in my dreamy child mind, Guaraldi-esque jazz arrangements accompanying the cozy imagery of “foxes in the snow”, “boys on bikes” and the uniformed valor of high-school track and field stars. They bobbed and danced through my imagination like shadow puppets across a blank wall, magical and innocent. One of my most vivid childhood memories – age 8 - places me in the living room of my current home, empty, save for a television and a Gamecube that sprouted from the wooden flooring like an art gallery installation. My sister and I played Kirby Air Ride as mom and dad maneuvered couches and mattresses through the front door. All the while, I whispered the lyrics of the album to myself. Nothing felt so comforting.

As I aged, the album’s warm, flannel-ly imagery became somewhat tainted as teenage world-weariness seeped into my bloodstream. I began to see the “sinister” nature that loomed beneath the fa├žade of its woodland animals and schoolyard rhymes. Murdoch’s songwriting dealt with dejection, deviancy and experimentation as much as it did the excitement of a snow day or the hum of insects on a muggy summer evening. It was all-encompassing, microcosmic even. There’s a quotable lyric tucked away in the liner notes of Sinister for by someone of any age or mindset.

Perhaps it’s the childhood nostalgia I reflected on back in issue 15 of my zine, a fear that I’ve grown up too fast, that sends me back to Belle and Sebastian in 2015. The twee playfulness that oozes from Murdoch’s tunesmithery allows me a sense of childlike wonder, while there’s enough rich subtext to keep my late-teenage mind properly stimulated. Lately, I’ve been revisiting the band’s 4th effort, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, 15 years after its original release date. It may lack some of the consistency and coherence that makes Sinister so legendarily satisfying, but it makes up for it in creativity and sheer pluck. Most notably, it contains standout cut “The Model”, which charges forward on nimble harpsichord melodies and a groovy rock n’ roll rhythm section. But there are many other highlights. Guitarist Stevie Jackson strums out an awkward-yet-tender ballad on “Beyond the Sunrise” while cellist Isobel Campbell lends her feathery vocal to “Family Tree”, a lovely bit of chamber-pop doo-wop that leads into the record’s triumphant closer, “There’s Too Much Love”. Though often overlooked, Fold Your Hands is a beautifully collaborative effort that stands up strong in a B+S catalogue filled with hits - it's the sort of record that may not top a list of your all-time favorites but will always remain a constant in your rotation, sneaking into your conscious when it's most needed