Monday, February 9, 2015

Belle and Sebastian Hit the Dancefloor

I'll confess that Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, the latest LP from Belle and Sebastian, is not an album that I've been salivating at the prospect of. I love If You're Feeling Sinister, but that album came out almost a decade TWO DECADES ago, and my limited experience of the band's more recent output had made me apprehensive - the only other B&S album I own is 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and while that disc has its moments, its decidedly patchier and a lot less amazing overall than Sinister.

As it turns out, though, my doubts concerning Girls in Peacetime were entirely unfounded. It's a big surprise, certainly - I may not be completely familiar with the Belle and Sebastian back catalogue, but I'm reasonably positive that they've never sounded like this before. The twee, semi-orchestral indiefolk with which I tend to associate B&S spends most of this album in the backseat; meanwhile, there's a bigger, synthier, and altogether dancier driver at the wheel.

(I suppose the clue is in the title, isn't it?)

Girls in Peacetime, I'd hazard, is the first Belle and Sebastian album that was written with arenas in mind. It takes things back to the eighties, sonically speaking; this is a trick that worked wonders for Taylor Swift and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart last year, and I'd say it's an equally strong move for Stuart Murdoch and Co. This album reminds me of Futurology by the Manic Street Preachers in that it's a) a more synth-heavy set than we're used to from these guys, and b) a triumphant comeback from a band who seem to have realised that it never hurts to go large.

My favourite track on Girls in Peacetime (bear in mind that I only bought this album on Saturday, so I've only had a couple of listens thus far) is Play for Today, whose brilliance quickly overtook my disappointment at discovering that it wasn't a Cure cover. It's a joyous six-minute dance number that, musically, is somewhere between the Pet Shop Boys and early Magnetic Fields. It also features guest vocals from Dee Dee Penny (lead singer of the Dum Dum Girls), which is great.

But the best thing about Play for Today is its willingness to get into a groove and enjoy itself for as long as it does. Wrapped Up in Books is the best track on Dear Catastrophe Waitress for a similar reason; it's happy just to lean on that krautrockin' bassline for a while and build all these other blocks around it, rather than faffing about with different sections and intricate arrangements like that album's less engaging moments.

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is an unexpected treat. Listen to it now if you've haven't already.

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