In the latter half of their career, Belle & Sebastian have consistently tried to balance the desire to appeal to a wider audience with more outward-facing pop songs alongside the bookish indie pop that netted them a cult of worshipping devotees in the first place. They’ve never done it quite as successfully as they have here on Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. Opener “Nobody’s Empire,” with its marching beat, glowing synths and gospel choir backup vocals comes off like a statement of purpose: This will be a richly produced pop album (courtesy of Ben H. Allen III, who’s worked both with the indie-pop elite and hip-hop artists), so gear up. The band comes up with one of its most radio-ready singles to date on “The Party Line,” a disco-rock track with typically clever lyrics and a booming synth riff that won’t quit. The best Stevie Jackson-led song in years comes on the bittersweet beatnik funk of “Perfect Couples.” “Play for Today” is synthy and light, with ace guest vocals from Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee Penny. And it’s safe to say Belle & Sebastian have the only ABBA-esque synth-pop track that name-checks Sylvia Plath. But Belle & Sebastian want to do more than make us dance. Several tracks hue closer to their ’90s incarnation while still retaining the fuller production present on the album’s more immediate moments. The European folk-flavored “The Everlasting Muse” is rich with mandolin, horns and clap-along breakdowns. The slow-rolling, string-laden “Ever Had a Little Faith” is reminiscent of early B&S highlight “The Boys of Track and Field.” And Sarah Martin gets to sing lead on both the swoony “The Power of Three” and rollicking “The Book of You,” with some ripping guitarwork to boot. So it’s not the introverted Belle & Sebastian of yore. But this edition of Belle & Sebastian manages to help them evolve without losing what made them special. It’s a win-win for fans new and old, on one of Belle & Sebastian’s best albums in years.
Our Best Of 2014 extravaganza ain’t quite over yet. Here’s a list of 20 excellent records that were reissued on vinyl this year. (Out of stock? Add the item to your wishlist and we’ll notify you when we have it in.)
Erykah Badu’s second album is a neo-soul touchstone that represents her transition from her earlier work to her wilder 2000’s output. Features the hit “Bag Lady.”
The mother of all rock bands/albums. The Beatles’ albums (all of which are pretty much essential) were reissued on vinyl this year. You gotta own this one on mono vinyl, the way it’s meant to be heard.
The year’s coming to a close, and it’s time to look ahead. There are already several sure-to-be great albums on the horizon. You can already preorder the ones below.
Out Jan. 13
Experimental pop auteur and Animal Collective member Panda Bear aka Noah Lennox is back with his fifth solo album and first in four years. Like his last album, Tomboy, it’s co-produced by Peter Kember, and it features two songs that have already been premiered, the woozy “Mr Noah” and mind-bending “Boys Latin,” for which you can watch the mesmerizing video below. “Mr Noah” has been already released on a four-song EP of the same name, which includes three more songs; those three extra songs will also be available on the deluxe editions of the album.
The band’s new album was recorded in Atlanta and was the band’s first to be produced by Ben H. Allen III, who was worked with everyone form Kaiser Chiefs and Animal Collective to Cee-Lo and Gnarls Barkley. It follows a round of B&S vinyl reissues from Matador, including the recently reissued If You’re Feeling Sinister, which had some of us around here feeling nostalgic; Tigermilk; Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant; The Life Pursuit; and Dear Catastrophe Waitress, along with The Boy With the Arab Strap, which comes out on vinyl Nov. 4.
Last time I wrote about how The Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore was a gateway album for me when I was 16. Enamored of that album’s nocturnal aura, I sought music with a similarly mellow, melancholic vibe. I was also an avid Rolling Stone junkie at the time. I remember reading their four-star review of The Boy With the Arab Strap and deciding it was something I’d like, and I went out and bought it on a whim. I was right—I became totally hooked on this band, their vintage aesthetic and gently orchestrated sound, which sounded mind-blowingly fresh to me at the time.
I suppose it wasn’t just my decided lack of worldliness that was to blame there. You certainly couldn’t hear anything like Belle & Sebastian on radio or MTV, and this was still the infancy of the Napster years. My parents’ lame computer could only hold about 100 songs. There was still a lot of going out and buying CDs on whims then.