Belle and Sebastian

Published on October 10th, 2014

Belle and Sebastian

In some circles, Belle and Sebastian is hated for the same reasons it’s loved, but those aren’t the circles I’d want to hang in. Since their inception, the Glasglow indie rockers have, perhaps more than any artist since Morrissey, personified sonic feyness—they make music for the bullied, the outcast, the sensitive bedroom poets and milquetoast asthmatics. They’ve always been the anti-cock-rock, and thus an easy target for shallow ridicule. In Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, the character of Joey, a budding college neocon who probably listens to Creed and Godsmack, comments on his older sister’s “intolerable Belle and Sebastian, [cranked up] to club-level volumes.”

But just as the boldness and muscularity of Morrissey’s sound belies his own stereotype, so too does Belle and Sebastian continue to resist its image of bookish winsomeness. Bandleader Stuart Murdoch once was an amateur boxer, and he remains a dedicated middle-distance runner. As biographer Paul Whitelaw points out in Just a Modern Rock Story, the group’s enduring “Stars of Track and Field” is not supposed to be taken ironically: “Despite the lazy journalistic cliché, the members of Belle and Sebastian have little in common with the exaggeratedly sensitive image which has dogged them.”

belle and sebastian after party at kill your idol with sweet broncoIn fact, the more you dig into the group’s eight-album archive and copious EPs and B-sides, the more that impression melts away under the sardonic humor and slyly confrontational lyrics. The first few times Murdoch utters the word “fuck” amid the orchestral flourishes of B&S’s baroque pop elegance, it sounds anomalous; keep listening, and you’ll find that ribald snarkiness is ingrained into the group’s DNA: “I could kill you, sure,” and “step into my office, baby” and “the referee gives us fuck all.” They even wrote an instrumental titled “Fuck This Shit.”

As Belle and Sebastian has matured into the 21st century, it has further expanded on its earliest referential benchmarks like Nick Drake and The Left Banke, embracing a immediately infectious retro aesthetic that includes an unabashed admiration for Thin Lizzy. The hits on 2010’s Belle and Sebastian Write About Love sound like lost ‘70s chart-toppers, with all the vintage spacey effects and none of the cheese. If not as profound as the material on its first three albums, it’s a lot more fun to sing along to.

And did I mention they’re a wonderful live act? Incidentally, Belle & Sebastian is the first band I ever drove out of Florida to see, at a sold-out show in Atlanta in 2002. Now, finally, we don’t have to travel as far, with a supremely rare SoFla gig on Sept. 28 at the Fillmore, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $32.50, get them while you can. Call 305-673-7300 or visit After Party at Kill Your Idol w. Sweet Bronco.

~ John Thomason

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