Retrospective 2: Belle and Sebastian - "If You're Feeling Sinister

Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
(Jeepster 1996)
 Up until a few years ago, the words "indie rock" meant, well, absolutely nothing. All the way through elementary school, as far as I knew, only three bands existed on the entire face of the earth. Simon and Garfunkel, Cocteau Twins and Belle and Sebastian. We happened to own albums by each of these bands on cassette, and they remained in constant rotation on long car trips throughout my childhood. Looking back now, I don't think I even knew what pop music was until I was 12. Although each band had its characteristics that shaped my future taste in music, the one that really struck a chord with me (no pun intended) was Belle and Sebastian. Lead singer and songwriter Stuart Murdoch was able to bridge the seemingly infinite gap between Simon and Garfunkle's wistful folk pop and the Cocteau Twins' lush orchestration. His music, even 16 years later, is still ahead of its time.

 If You're Feeling Sinister, receiving universal acclaim and included on many 'best of the nineties' lists, is an almost perfect album, even down to the cover art and font. The music produced by this Scottish 8-piece has a timeless, almost magical quality, spanning the genres of jazz, folk and 70s rock. The size of the band may seem intimidating, but the instruments blend together to create lush soundscapes rather than battle for position. Murdoch's songwriting is at its peak here, too. The the lyrics are humorous and witty, with less of the innuendo that frenquently appeared in previous efforts. I can even see a little Morrisey influence in there. 

 The opener, "Stars of Track and Field" is everything an epic of Belle and Sebastian's proportions should be. The song starts with just Stuart's guitar and builds to a stunning crescendo of strings, horns and light touches of piano. No two tracks on the album are alike. While "Seeing Other People" sounds like the Charlie Brown Christmas soundrack set to lyrics, "Like Dylan In the Movies" is driven by a bouncy bass groove and breaks out into a bluesy solo. "The Fox in the Snow" is the standout track here. Although it's built mainly around piano, it never comes across as cheesy and is a real goosebump raiser. 

 Songs like "The Fox in the Snow" and "Mayfly" defined my childhood, and whatever age you are, these songs will define your life. Timeless, wistful and catchy, Belle and Sebastian will live on forever as an indie rock staple.