The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'belle & sebastian'
My impressions of the new Belle & Sebastian album:
- The disco/club/EDM direction. It's not all over the album, but in enough places (and lurking in the background elsewhere; i.e., the subtle pumping synth pad underpinning Nobody's Empire, a piece of layered indie-pop à la B&S played otherwise straight), and it works convincingly. This wasn't Belle & Sebastian's first foray into dance music, of course; not counting the synth noodlings of Electronic Renaissance, there was the DFA-pastiche of Your Cover's Blown. And it works convincingly; they seem to get the idioms and work with them competently. The Party Line is essentially Your Cover's Blown II; following it, The Power of Three is reminiscent of Saint Etienne in its combination of sixeventies popular song and dance/electronica, without sounding very much like them, and Enter Sylvia Plath goes into eurodisco territory; sounding a little like Geoffrey O'Connor hypothetically covering ABBA's Lay All Your Love On Me.
- There has always been something very male-gazey about Belle & Sebastian; Stuart Murdoch, in his musical practice, has always had an eye for the girls, photographing them for cover artwork and telling stories about them, their inner lives and their struggles with faith, sexuality, social issues and body image, in his lyrics. (One can imagine an alternate universe where, by some bizarre twist in the time continuum, Belle & Sebastian signed to Sarah Records, but ended up parting ways with the label after a heated argument over cover artwork.) This record is not an exception. Granted, Murdoch is a middle-aged man, and in some cases, the girls his gaze rests on have aged with him (“now I look at you, you're a mother of two, you're a quiet revolution”); in other cases, such as The Everlasting Muse, the subject of his medusa-like gaze is that classical cliché, inspiration as feminine object of desire, or perhaps any one of a number of a succession of ingenues. And then there's the question of whether The Power Of Three is itself a mildly pervy double entendre, in the Carry On-esque vein of Step Into My Office Baby.
- Belle & Sebastian never were, nor claimed to be, a band from the radical vanguard of indie music, preferring instead to find subtleties in the quotidian. Publicly Christian (though in a thoughtful, soul-searching sort of way, with neither fire nor brimstone) where others leaned towards Marxism, Situationism or the heady brew of continental philosophy, studiously apolitical, and emphatically heterosexual, in a way that manages to eschew any trace of swagger or machismo, in a scene where, between Blueboy and riot grrrl, heteronormativity was anything but a given. In any case, this has positioned Belle & Sebastian well to comment on the everyday, and Perfect Couples continues this, ever so gently skewering the discreet charm of the Waitrose-shopping bourgeoisie, and weaving a wry narrative of marital boredom and that cliché, the mid-life crisis break-up.
- The big surprise, musically, is not so much the disco elements, but the Balkan groove of The Everlasting Muse, whose chorus sounds like a thigh-slappingly good knees-up in a Greek taverna.
- The gentle, wistful melodies B&S are famous for are still there, i.e., The Cat With The Cream and Ever Had A Little Faith; now, of course, filled out with string arrangements which work nicely without being overwhelming. And the closing track, Today (This Army's For Peace), echoes the rustic languor of Yo La Tengo at their most mellow.
Belle and Sebastian are now working on a musical. Actually, it's not going to play in the West End alongside We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia and the numerous lesser much-loved-band-canon musicals, but is going to take the form of a feature film, apparently in the style of The Beatles' ventures in the genre.
Stuart, who recently turned up on the red carpet as a guest at Hallam Foe's launch in Edinburgh, said: "We're making a record because that's what we do. But when the time and mood are right, the record will become a film."The title will be "God Help The Girl" (which sounds rather like a Belle & Sebastian song title) and it'll be set in a city not unlike Glasgow, only with "the canals were a bit grimier, the high-rise buildings taller, the streets emptier when you needed them to be, and the beat clubs busier than the ones around here". One of the songs from it will be titled "The Psychiatrist Is In".
During summer, a girl who plays in a ladies football team (Gregory's Girl, anyone?) meets a boy who works at the local swimming pool. After getting the bedsit next door, they meet another girl and decide to make music together.
Stuart said: "The boy was kind of flexible as nobody had shown much interest in him for awhile. So he went along, prepared to teach girl two all he knew about the steel-strung acoustic guitar that he cradled.They are now looking for performers (actors/singers) to star in the film. If you feel you'd fit the part (and, presumably, live somewhere near Glasgow), there are more details here.
I have just been listening to a recording of a recent Belle & Sebastian gig at the Hollywood Bowl, backed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The recording came out very well (with the exception of the usual chattering idiots you get at gigs, though they're not too obstrusive), and it sounds like it was an impressive show; the orchestral arrangements work really well, and some of the songs sound better than the regular versions without an orchestra.
This past Friday evening, I went to see Belle & Sebastian at the Hammersmith NME Carling Xfm Apollo or whatever it's called. Apparently (according to Stuart Murdoch), this was the very same historic venue at which David Bowie killed the Spiders from Mars.
The Belle & Sebastian gig last night was brillant; as good as the Brighton gig a week earlier. They started off with The State I'm In, and then went on to play songs including Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie, Dog On Wheels and She's Losing It; it was good to see that both Electronic Renaissance and Your Cover's Blown got onto the playlist; both of these work really well live. Oh, and Stuart went on wearing a school jacket, which suited him.
There was no cover this time and no guest singers, though there was audience participation aplenty. After playing The Loneliness of the Middle-Distance Runner, Stuart paused and confided in the audience that he was wondering what 5,000 people whistling in unison would sound like; he then strummed the chords of the song whilst the assembled audience whistled its melody. (For the record, it sounded quite impressive.) At another time in the gig, Stuart noticed that some members of the audience had brought in tambourines and such and asked who else had brought in instruments. One audience member handed him a kazoo, which he proceeded to play, before throwing it back. At the end, they played Judy And The Dream Of Horses; Stuart didn't sing the first verse, but instead played guitar and let the audience do it; they rose to the occasion with gusto. Of course, it wasn't really the last song; there was an encore, in which one of the songs was Sleep The Clock Around, performed with a piano intro.
I managed to take some photos at the gig; they are here.
Last night, Your Humble Narrator saw Belle & Sebastian at the Dome in Brighton.
The gig was excellent; as impressive as the Melbourne one*. They played a mixture of old and new songs, starting off the gig with Stars Of Track And Field. Stuart was particularly animated; other than dancing energetically, during a performance of Electronic Renaissance, he took to the railing that encircles the general-admission area of the Dome and did a circuit of it, singing into a wireless microphone. The audience was divided between those who turned to follow him, and those who watched the rest of the band on stage, including Stevie also singing. The version of Your Cover's Blown was also very groovy, and they did an impromptu live version of The Strokes' Last Night, which, whilst lacking somewhat in accuracy, more than made up for it in spirit.
I managed to get a camera into the venue, and took some photos. Alas, my batteries soon ran out (a pox on Canon's battery life indicator, which has only two settings: "everything's OK" and "about to die"). I took the remainder of the photos with my cameraphone, which turned out better than one would expect from a phone, though nowhere near proper camera quality. The photos are/will be here.
* except that the girl they got on stage for the encore didn't know the words to any songs, and stood there like a somewhat inebriated deer caught in headlights, singing the few fragments of The State I'm In she could remember. It was alright, though; the audience joined in to help her.
The latest addition to the Belle & Sebastian lifestyle-experience empire is a graphic novel. Titled Put The Book Back On The Shelf, it comes out in February (one week before their new album) and features stories titled after (and presumably inspired by) Belle & Sebastian songs, written and illustrated by various sequential artists. The only name that immediately rings a bell is Laurenn McCubbin (co-author of "Lazy Line Painter Jane"), who I think is one of those freaky fetish-goth authors Warren Ellis hangs around with or something, and who also did the cover art. (I was hoping they'd get Daniel Clowes or Dorothy Gambrell or someone to contribute to it, but you can't have everything.)
And here are my records of 2005, in no particular order:
- Machine Translations, Wolf on a String*. Six tracks, subtle and impeccably produced, layering guitars, electronics and understated vocals, and with a great deal of thought in the arrangements and compositions. The title track is hauntingly lovely, and Miss China and Paris Road are low-key pop gems. The other three tracks are good too.
- Broadcast, Tender Buttons. Their last album was a bit bland compared to The Noise Made By People; this one is a return to form. It's like early Stereolab playing on a Game Boy, all sparse, motorik grooves, gloriously dirty aliased waveforms and Trish's dreamy vocals.
- Sambassadeur, Between The Lines EP. A four track EP, released in Sweden last year but the UK only this year, from another good Swedish indie band. They also released a quite decent album later this year, but for some reason, this grabbed me more. The title track of the EP is a joyous piece of upbeat indie-pop; the other tracks are fitting B-sides, pop songs with guitar, trumpet, melodica, and a bit of shoegazing feedback and Mary Chain-style fuzz.
- Holidays On Ice, Playing Boyfriends and Girlfriends* Classy, polished indie-pop from various established Australian musicians, including Angie Hart of Frenté/Splendid; has echoes of Yo La Tengo. Even though the idea of a group of thirtysomething Australian band veterans releasing a record with an unbelievably fey title and a naïve picture of kids playing in the snow (presumably somewhere in Northern Europe or North America) on the cover does seem a tad contrived, the product is eminently listenable. Highlights include the upbeat pop of Sailor Girl, Speak-n-Spell-driven semi-instrumental Spell Happiness, the board-game-referencing (though not AIH-referencing) glock-pop of Fingers crossed and some of the instrumentals.
- Minimum Chips, Kitchen Tea Thankyou* This one took me by surprise. After getting used to the Chips putting out one EP every few years, I did not expect them to drop an entire album one year after their last EP. But they did, and we get almost 50 minutes of Minimum Chips goodness: modular organ grooves, jagged guitar jangle, sophisticated Continental pop sounds filtered through Melbourne/Brisbane indie-rock, and Nicole's floating vocals, more "aaah" than "ba ba ba". ("Lady Grey", in particular, could be descibed as "Golden Brown", had it been written by Stereolab about tea rather than The Stranglers about heroin.) A few of the tracks were familiar from Minimum Chips gigs two years ago, and had only made it onto record now.
- Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd, the Mysterious Skin film score Possibly the best thing Guthrie has put out since Victorialand. Ethereal and moody, like golden sunlight in a dream. The film was quite good too (though somewhat more disturbing).
- The Winter Ship, Teardrops EP*. Four tracks of shoegazing post-rock goodness, with rather nice string arrangements, from the Melbourne instrumental outfit. Swimming Through A Narrow Space sounds not unlike Mogwai's Helicon 1 only with words. The other tracks are no less lovely.
Honourable mentions go to Architecture In Helsinki, In Case We Die, Broken Social Scene's self-titled album (which I received only in the last days of the year, too late to fully get into, though I get the feeling it may be a grower), LCD Soundsystem's self-titled album, The Magic Numbers' self-titled debut (which has some strong guitar-pop tracks, though is a bit bland in places, and may not be a proper CD in all territories), Momus, Otto Spooky, Francis Plagne, Idle Bones (which has a few good songs and a lot of meandering ambient field recordings; were the ratio reversed, it'd be quite impressive), and Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, #3.
It was also a good year for rereleases, with the entire Field Mice back-catalogue seeing the light of day again, in the form of new releases of Snowball, Skywriting and For Keeps, all extended with non-album tracks, and all three Slowdive albums (Just For A Day, Souvlaki and the exquisite Pygmalion) being rereleased—the first two with bonus discs full of EP and live tracks—through Sanctuary; meanwhile, neo-shoegazer Ulrich Schnauss's first album, Far Away Trains Passing By, is seeing the light of day again (good to see that Domino are using their NMECarlingnuwaveartrock windfall for good).
My gigs of 2005:
- Belle & Sebastian playing If You're Feeling Sinister at the Barbican. They brought their second album to life really well, and played a few other favourites before and after it.
- My Favorite, playing at Underbelly, 17 June. The last ever gig they did in the UK before breaking up. Their brand of immaculate, upbeat, New Order/OMD-influenced pop with lyrics of suburban alienation and existential angst really appealed to me.
- One of the three Architecture In Helsinki gigs I caught on their two UK tours; let's say, for the sake of argument, the one at the Dublin Castle in Camden. Their live performances seemed a lot tighter and more energetic than they were when I saw them back in Melbourne.
- Broadcast at Koko. They brought their new album to life quite well, and played some of their old tracks too.
Observations on listening to Mark Radcliffe's show tonight on BBC2:
- Gogol Bordello sound like Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen crossed with a NME new-wave revival band.
- The new Belle & Sebastian single, Funny Little Frog, sounds nothing like Belle & Sebastian. There is nothing particularly fey about it (other than the title, of course); the vocals are strong and confident and it bounces along energetically. It could easily be, say, The Thrills or The Magic Numbers, or anything in the top 40 in the two decades before Stock/Aitken/Waterman and Dr. Dre. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you; it's a pretty classy piece of pop craftsmanship, though don't expect Lord Anthony or The State I Am In.
Details have emerged of the next Belle & Sebastian album. It'll be titled "The Life Pursuit", comes out on the 6th of February, and has 13 tracks, two of which are titled "Another Sunny Day" (in homage to the Sarah Records band perhaps?) and "Mornington Crescent" (presumably after the game; either that or written during a bad delay on the Northern Line). The tweeness quota is rounded out by the title of the first single, "Funny Little Frog", and the Stuart Murdoch Bible-reference quota is taken care of by "Act of the Apostle", Part 1 and Part 2.
There is also something about "another B&S album (of sorts)" being released in three weeks, though no further details. Could this be the children's song compilation that Momus was too outré to be accepted for?
Belle & Sebastian have announced their next UK tour, in January and February of 2006. Tickets go on sale on Thursday at 9am.
Tonight, I saw Belle & Sebastian at the Barbican. The performance was one of several in the ATP Don't Look Back series, in which bands perform live renditions of their classic albums. For their turn, Belle & Sebastian did If You're Feeling Sinister.
The support band for this gig was Broadcast, who were excellent. They played a combination of new material and old (including Come On Let's Go), and played like a tight, finely-tuned groove machine. One got an impression of retrofuturism, as if their music (with its analogue fuzz, live drum grooves and clunky bass) was something out of a 1960s-vintage view of a shining, stylish future. Anyway, they're doing a gig at Koko in Camden on Wednesday as well.
Then Belle & Sebastian went on. They had 12 musicians on stage and an astonishing array of kit (including a xylophone or similar, an electric piano and a PowerBook they seemed to play software instruments on); one can see why they might need their own trucking company just to get all their stuff to gigs. They started off playing a few random songs (mostly from EPs, though including a rare live version of Electronic Renaissance, with two drummers), then went into If You're Feeling Sinister. There was a rather fitting muted trumpet solo at the end of Like Dylan In The Movies, and after The Fox In The Snow, Stuart recounted a dream he had about Isobel agreeing to play this gig if they kept a taxi running for her outside throughout the gig, before confessing to missing her, to the audience's sympathy. For Judy and the Dream Of Horses, the band got a number of people who had been dancing in the audience to dance on stage; afterward, they proceeded to play about half a dozen other songs, including a rousing version of The Boy With The Arab Strap. In total, they played for almost two hours.
It wasn't too unlike their Melbourne gig; at first it started with people sitting quietly in the seats and watching them, but ended up with people dancing in their seats and the aisles, clapping and singing along. Towards the end (in the middle of If You Find Yourself Caught In Love, Stuart paused the song and revealed that he could see many familiar faces in the crowd; he compared this to the end of episodes of The Simpsons. And, towards the end of The Boy With The Arab Strap, the line about "the cool set in London" was followed by applause.
Anyway, it was a brilliant gig. They were in fine form and put on an excellent show.
The top 100 indiepop albums, according to an Italian website. The descriptions are in Italian, though the choices look mostly quite sound. The top 3 are C86, one of the Sarah Records compilations and Belle & Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister, which sets the tone and gives an idea of the aesthetic involved. The rest doesn't disappoint: The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy is #11, #13 and #14 are Orange Juice and The Pastels, Japanese pop band 800 Cherries have #21, The Hummingbirds' loveBuzz takes #55 (and I didn't think anyone outside of Australia had heard of them; perhaps the next one of these that comes out will name-check Clag or Mid-State Orange), meanwhile Lush's Split has #67, Slowdive get #89 (along with what looks like an arch comment about the decline and fall of Creation), and The Radio Dept.'s Lesser Matters comes in at #83.
Following on from the indie cover MP3 compilation, there is now a collection of songs covered by Belle & Sebastian in their live shows, as a set of bootleg MP3s of varying quality. They've got everything from The Byrds and The Beatles to a cowbell-intensive version of original umlaut abusers Blue Öyster Cult's Don't Fear The Reaper and covers of The Pixies, The Smiths and Dinosaur Jr. guaranteed to please the coolsie indie chats. Also, it seems like they have a habit of pulling fans in from the audience to do guest vocals.
(Btw, the C86 page previously mentioned here seems to now have links to all the MP3s, in a bunch of enormous ZIP files.)
Not content to sell trucker caps and retro-hipster flight bags to the world's indie kids, Belle & Sebastian have entered the ringtone business. Currently, they only have a few tones (mostly from their last album), and the Flash interface doesn't seem to play the polyphonic ones.
(Speaking of Belle & Sebastian's merchandise business, I wonder how long until they start selling their own line of NHS-style black-frame emo glasses; that would be a natural progression. Either that or doing a deal with a multinational electronics company to make Belle & Sebastian-branded MP3 players and digital cameras, à la GwenStefaniCorp.)
Meanwhile, it's a sign of how much Dionysiac Genius of Rock Pete Doherty's stock has dipped that Damon Albarn is now picking on him, and talking about starting a "Make Doherty History" campaign (a line he seems to have lifted from the cover of Private Eye). I guess that there's no danger of Babyshambles getting up and giving Albarn a sound thrashing, as Oasis did shortly before disappearing in a cloud of cocaine-induced self-importance.
It looks like the rerelease fairy had been busy recently, with a goodly number appearing on the horizon. First of all, Stereolab's 3CD+1DVD retrospective Oscillons from the Anti-Sun, is coming out in just under two weeks (a few days before OSX Tiger). I'll probably pick it up, it having a decent number of tracks I haven't got, as well as the videos.
Meanwhile, a month after that, there's a Belle & Sebastian singles compilation coming out, wittily titled "Push Barman to Open Old Wounds", with a decent number of singles and B-sides up until I'm Waking Up To Us.
And then there are those Cure rereleases, all lovingly remastered and packed with extra CDs of bonus tracks, live recordings and demos, all from back when The Cure were interesting. Or, as VICE Magazine (which, incidentally, gave the three rereleases 30/10) put it:
He wrote these in his early 20s. He thought he'd be dead by 27. Creatively, he kind of was.
Anyway, it's good to see a version of Carnage Visors coming out that's not a badly encoded MP3 of a well-worn 3rd-generation cassette recording.
The Scottish tsunami benefit concert looks pretty good, with Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub and Franz Ferdinand, among others.
Recordings of 2004
- Morrissey, You Are The Quarry. Moz is back, and in fine form. His youthful alienation is turning into the crankiness of a lonely old man, but he still can write a good song (and give a good show).
- Pipas, Bitterclub. A new EP from this London electropop duo; A classy mixture of indiepop vocals, glitchy beats and guitars.
- The Radio Dept., Lesser Matters. Well-crafted indiepop with guitars, synths, Casio drum loops, good chord progressions and songwriting and just the right amount of Kevin Shields influence.
- Talkshow Boy, Watch As I Perform My Own Tracheotomy. Apparently not out yet, though I got an advance copy, and it's a cracker of an album. It's 20 tracks along the same lines as the Ice Police single; glitchy yet catchy electropop with razor-sharp stream-of-consciousness lyrics and titles like Ruff Lovin' In A Tuff Neighbourhood, Go Hard Or Go Home (I Wanna Tweak Yr Moog) and OMG I <3 Livejournal (And My Livejournal <3's Me).
And a few other mentions, honourable and otherwise. The new Stereolab album, Margerine Eclipse was good, though no track leapt out at me in quite the way that various tracks from previous releases have done. The long-awaited New Buffalo album was, to be honest, a bit disappointing; in building her home studio, Sally seems to have mislaid her analogue drum machine, and gone away from the layered glitchiness which made About Last Night (and early live versions of many of the songs) such a delight. Meanwhile, Björk's Medulla didn't grab me; making tracks entirely out of voice samples is an interesting experiment, though the result I'm not sure about. And then there were all the calculatedly commercial post-Interpol/Franz Ferdinand bands like The Killers.
There are a few recordings released in 2004 which I didn't get to check out properly before the end of the year, such as Minimum Chips' Sound Asleep, the Arcade Fire's Funeral and the new Styrofoam. Or, indeed, the new Interpol album. My excuse is that a lot of the money which would have gone on CDs was instead squandered on food and rent in one of the world's most expensive cities; I'll probably catch up on them in the first half of 2005.
Some other bands I discovered this year: GirlsAreShort (a Canadian electropop act), Remington Super 60/Nice System (a Norwegian lounge-pop/bossa-pop outfit), a wealth of British indie from the late 1980s and 1990s, including parts of the Sarah Records back-catalogue I hadn't heard (of) before (key bands being The Wake, The Bodines, and various bands from the Sound of Leamington Spa compilation series) and Azure Ray (an all-female indie duo from Nebraska). Not to mention an appreciation of Electric Six's, Fire (they're like the Scissor Sisters with balls or something; tacky but fun).
Top gigs of 2004 (in alphabetical order):
- BAM BAM in a backyard in Fitzroy in April. I was blown away by their energy and musicianship. They rock hard and look sharp, and if anyone deserves to make it big, it's them. And it looks like things are happening for them.
- Belle & Sebastian at the Palais in St Kilda. Easily the gig of the year. They tore the roof off the place. People were dancing in the aisles and all. The band bantered with the audience, did an AC/DC cover, and at one stage, a girl from the audience got up on stage, sang the vocals from Lazy Line Painter Jane with them and did a perfect job of it.
- Le Tigre at the Islington Academy (in London, natch). Half of it was prerecorded (though they did play guitars/keyboards and sing), though the visuals and stage performance were good to behold.
- The Chickfactor Mon Gala Papillons night in Shepherd's Bush (also in London). Stevie Jackson from Belle & Sebastian did a few quite nice songs, and Pipas took their act to the stage.
- The Radio Dept., at Barfly, Camden. They're as good live as on record.
- Radiohead at the Rod Laver Arena (back in Melbourne again). Gigs at arenas usually suck, because of the binoculars factor, but Radiohead put on a good show, despite Thom's voice faltering somewhat. Their use of the video screens was quite creative too.
- Schmoof, at the Water Rats in London. Slick if slightly silly tongue-in-cheek electropop with rock theatrics worthy of Spinal Tap and visuals handcoded in BASIC on a ZX Spectrum.
Not to mention multiple gigs by various excellent Melbourne bands, including The Rumours, Season and City City City, not to mention the aforementioned BAM BAM and Talkshow Boy.
This evening, Your Humble Narrator went to the first night of Mon Gala Papillons, a two-day indie-pop festival organised by Chickfactor, at a rather plush music hall in Shepherd's Bush named, appropriately enough, Bush Hall.
First up was Amy Linton, of Aislers Set fame; she strummed an electric guitar and played/sang a few songs, and was quite good. Seeing her brought back some memories; the last time I saw her play was in a backyard in Clifton Hill, when Stewart and Jen were honeymooning/holidaying/touring in Australia.
Next up were a female duo from New York named Mascott. Their set started with one of them (Margaret) on stage, playing violin, as the other played a grand piano (located in front of the stage) and sang. The first song was lovely; it reminded me a bit of another New York resident, Greta Gertler. Afterward, the pianist took the stage and picked up a guitar. Some of the other songs were quite nice, though I thought that the first one stood above them all.
Third on was a solo set from Stevie Jackson, of Belle & Sebastian. He went up on stage, smartly dressed in a suit and tie, and started off playing Ode To Joy on the harmonica, before launching into his own numbers. He didn't play any Belle & Sebastian songs that I recognised; mostly his own songs, and mostly ones about girls (because, as he explained, he likes girls). The songs included "Portland, Oregon", "Phone In My Head" (which was particularly nice), and "Lonely Pop Star", as well as a Belle & Sebastian-style rendition of Frosty the Snowman (which someone requested), and a song he said he learned from Alex Chilton toward the end.
Then on came electro-pop duo Pipas, a girl with shortish brown hair in a stripy top and a guy with a bowlie haircut and glasses in a chequered shirt. They had a PowerBook on stage, which they mostly used to play backing tracks (and a bit of keyboards), over which they played guitar and bass and sang, performing songs off their recent EP and past albums. They were a little shambolic, but generally pretty good.
Finally, the Television Personalities came on. I was expecting them to be like XTC or Wire or The Fall or someone, but they were more Mod-revivalist, right down to the bassist having a Royal Air Force roundel and Vespa logo on his bass.
(Apologies for the crappy photos; I left my PowerShot G2 at home, and had only my futurephone to take photos with. I really need to get a decent camera that fits comfortably in a pocket and gives me no excuse to not take it to gigs.)
Belle & Sebastian: not just a band, but your one stop shop for coolsie lifestyle accessories, from flight bags to--wait for it--trucker caps, all carrying the Belle & Sebastian brand (which could well be the next Paul Frank or something). The only thing they're missing is gas-station attendants' shirts.
And for the mono.net set, they have this badge of a very twee-looking bird kicking an egg.
I went to the Belle & Sebastian show at the Palais Theatre tonight. They tore the roof off the place. Seriously.
There were 12 musicians on stage: the band plus additional musicians playing strings; they had a wide array of instruments, including 3 guitars (sometimes at once), a Hammond organ and a vibraphone/xylophone. Stuart Murdoch cut a dapper figure in his white T-shirt and vintage hat (think the sort ska rudeboys wear), danced animatedly and exchanged banter with the audience. Oh, and they still can't throw; I counted two missed tambourine catches in one song. But they can get a place moving; when the opening bars of The Boy With The Arab Strap sounded, people got out of their seats and into the aisles. The atmosphere was charged; it was, I imagine, like one of those black gospel church services in the US South.
They opened with Fuck This Shit (off the Storytelling score) and played for a bit over one and a half hours, playing most of the favourites; much of their most recent album, of course (the version of Stay Loose was well hard!), quite a few older tracks, and a slightly shambolic Rolling Stones cover. (Some wag in the audience suggested that they play Khe Sanh; Stuart didn't know it, but reckoned it sounded violent.) They changed the lyrics a bit in places (the version of If You Find Yourself Caught In Love exhorted the lovelorn to go into the desert and visit Ayers' Rock), and did a rather funky segue, with lots of wah guitar, from The Wrong Girl to Legal Man. At various stages, they invited audience members onto the stage: first, a group of fans with a banner requesting I Don't Love Anyone got to dance on stage with the banner as the band played the song, and, during the encore, a lot of people got on, including one girl from the audience who sung the female parts from Lazy Line Painter Jane, and did a bang-up job of them; she knew all the words and sounded really good in the part. I bet she'll get many singing gigs from now on.
It was easily the best gig I've seen all year.
The Belle & Sebastian live-to-air on PBS this evening was good; they played two songs from Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Step Into My Office, Baby and I'm a Cuckoo), one old one (Like Dylan in the Movies) and did an AC/DC cover, in the name of strengthening Australian-Scottish musical ties (which worked reasonably well; it wasn't quite as balls-to-the-wall as AC/DC, of course, but it was true to the spirit (or so I imagine, not having heard the original), rather than being an ironic twee/fey reimagining of it). In between two songs, one member threw something to another, and they joked that the fey, twee image they had been saddled with came from their lack of throwing skills.
I managed to record a MP3 of most of it (well, from some way into the first song to 45 minutes after it finished; I did the recording unattended). Now to find a MP3 trimmer (one that doesn't decode/reencode) and cut the rest of it off.
The Age speaks with Stuart Murdoch:
It was a fragile beast with mixed abilities; there were tensions between Murdoch and the other writers in the group. There was also a relationship between him and cellist/vocalist Isobel Campbell, which ended acrimoniously three years ago.
I didn't know that; though it explains things. I think Belle & Sebastian probably came out with the better end of the deal; Isobel Campbell's first post-Gentle Waves album seemed quite forgettable.
As bizarre as it seems when hip-hop rules the charts, manufactured pop rules the TV and angry white boys rule the radio, you can be fey, melodic and practically demanding to be beaten up by sexually repressed bullies and still exist. Such a revelation might be worth a celebratory drink. But not for Murdoch. "I like a Scotch whiskey but I'm allergic to alcohol, would you believe, which is a tragedy in itself," Murdoch says.
Someone has put up an online petition to get Talkshow Boy as a support for the upcoming Belle & Sebastian show. Hmmm... it'd be a tad more interesting than one of the more obvious candidates, like, say, the Lucksmiths or Architecture In Helsinki. Whether the organisers would take notice, of course, is another matter (after all, just a year or so ago, the organisers of the Interpol gig chose to fly some band over from Perth rather than give the support slot to Love Of Diagrams; tour organisers work in mysterious ways).
I have it on good authority that Belle & Sebastian are coming to Australia, playing on 24 July at the Palais. I wonder who the supports will be; the obvious choice would be Architecture In Helsinki, though Tugboat were angling for this when it last came up. The Tranquilizers could also work. And I'll nominate Talkshow Boy as an outsider candidate.
The Null Device's top 8 records of 2003:
- 8. Yo La Tengo - Summer Sun. A nicely laid-back collection of grooves from Yo La Tengo, and more than a worthy follow-up to And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.
- 7. Martin L. Gore - Counterfeit2. Covers of acts including Nick Cave, the Velvet Underground and others, done in glitchy, electronic fashion, with the characteristic Depeche Mode formula of aching humanity and cold electronics. Note: the Australian release is corrupt; the US release isn't.
- 6. Ninetynine - Receiving the Sounds of Science Fiction EP. A five-track taster of their upcoming album, available only through a singles club in the US. Has some good new tracks, though I still think they shouldn't have taken the guitar line out of San Pedro.
- 5. The Postal Service - Give Up. Indie synth-pop from Seattle; intelligent and well arranged, even if some of the love ballads may be a bit too perky.
- 4. Radiohead - Hail To The Thief. This could possibly have been album of the year, or close to, had it not been for EMI deciding to release only defective versions in most markets (the US being an exception). In any case, the set of MP3s leaked onto the internet prior to release was actually slightly better than the released version (for example, The Gloaming lost its third verse before making it to CD). NOTE: The Null Device does not advocate violating copyright laws.
- 3. Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress. The Glaswegian indie-pop collective's latest album, produced by Trevor Horn, and bouncing all over the place, from rock to pop to retro. A bit fey in places, but then again, you'd sort of expect that.
- 2. Minimum Chips - Gardenesque. Three tracks they recorded for SBS and a longish studio arrangement. Good, if a bit short. Maybe one of these years they'll record a full-length album?
- 1. Spearmint - My Missing Days. Spearmint probably have the best songwriting of any English indie band these days. Their songs are very much about subjective experience, and don't confine themselves to the usual romantic-relationship clichés that sell well, but cover other things, like accumulating too much stuff as one goes through life, or the process of really getting into a book. Their music is pretty good too, reminiscent in places of Pulp or someones.
(A number of albums were disqualified for not being available to the public in non-defective CD format; being available on import from the United States or similar was sufficient. These include albums by David Bridie, The Thrills and Client.)
Details of the next Stereolab album, to be titled "Margerine Eclipse" (I kid you not), and containing tracks with names like "Vonal Declosion [accent on the 'e']", "Cosmic Country Noir" (there's another one of those Stereolab manifestos-in-a-song-title) and "The Man with 100 Cells". I am told this is genuine.
And while we're talking about music, does anybody else think that Belle & Sebastian's Stay Loose sounds like it had been recorded by an Australian/NZ band around 1980 or so? (There's the delayed guitar chords and the organ, to name two things.)
The Onion interviews Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian:
Q: O: What made you want to be an airline pilot?
SM: It's the kind of random job when you're that age. You never really seem to get beyond being a fireman or a policeman or an airline pilot, that sort of thing. One of the three. Actually, I don't like flying, so now it seems kind of funny to me. It would be one of my least favorite jobs now. Still, I would much rather be flying the plane than the steward. I mean, if I'm going to die, I'd rather have a hand in my own death.
O: A Hard Day's Night is on the list of your favorite films. If someone were to make a film about a day in the life of Belle And Sebastian, what would it be like?
SM: I think it'd be really boring. I'm not sure anybody would want to see it. It'd be a lot of us sitting around talking.
Could this be the most twee Flash game ever? A kid of indeterminate sex flying a kite from a bicycle, over a vaguely pastoral backdrop, while a plucked acoustic guitar loop plays. How much do you want to bet the programmer was listening to a lot of Belle & Sebastian at the time?
Today I picked up a copy of Belle & Sebastian's The Boy With The Arab Strap, after hearing it in the car when catching a lift back from Saturday's Ninetynine gig. (The advantage of living in North Fitzroy: people you catch lifts with are likely to have good stuff playing in the car.) I'm listening to it now, and it's growing on me. There are some quite catchy understated melodies there; I particularly like Sleep the Clock Around and Ease Your Feet In The Sea.
I didn't get into Belle & Sebastian a few years ago, when all the indiekids were wearing their I-own-Tigermilk badges, because I just didn't get them. I mean, I was into The Smiths, mostly because of Morrissey's sardonic miserablism and Wildean allusions (and probably living a socially isolated existence in Ferntree Gully had something to do with it), but B&S didn't scratch the same itch. Then again, I didn't quite get the concept of (indie-)pop sensibility back then either; it was a bit too subtle for me. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.