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.
By now you and I have heard the arguments for and against Scottish independence from the UK but as someone who has naturally bristled like a thistle when diasporic people argue passionately and ill-informedly about another country's political situations (which they are thankfully powerless to effect) I'll keep my political opinions to myself. What I will do instead is far more frivolous purposes -- that is list the best Scottish bands of all time.
Given its small population, Scotland has produced a fairly shocking amount of great music. Sure, there have been occasional English bands of note -- almost always from the north -- but I've always taken Anglophiles' preference for all things (assumed to be) English over English language pop from anywhere else as proof of a terminal subcultural defect. It's not really fair to blame England for Anglophiles any more than it is to blame Nirvana for Puddle of Mudd but I suppose it's because so many of the helmet-haired horde mistakenly think that I am one of them that they so vex me. How could I not be an Anglophile when I drink more tea than the average North African, enjoy curry in all of its Asian forms, and my favorite writer is Irish?
AlunaGeorge – Body Music
AlunaGeorge’s combination of The xx’s nighttime vibes with the coolness and precise beatwork of Aaliyah’s collaborations with Missy Elliott and Timbaland might seem like a mess on paper, but Body Music plays out more enjoyably than a thousand breathless, hypey articles could’ve predicted. Early singles “You Know You Like It” and “Your Drums, Your Love” appear here and are as silky smooth as ever, but the rest of Body Music impresses as well — I’m partial to the skittering R&B bounce of “Lost & Found.” Aluna Francis’ vocals are unassuming enough to pull of lines like “your body is like music, baby,” and George Reid’s production is plugged into modern trends — some vocal manipulation here and there, washed out ’80s synths aplenty — but he skillfully calls to mind late ’80s/early ’90s new jack swing in cadence and feel, without ever really appropriating those sounds, something easier said than done. And what’s more, Body Music comes off as pretty effortless and sexy, not cold and calculated. It’s is a rousing success, innovative and intriguing while remaining thoroughly pleasurable.
Stevie Jackson – (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson
(I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson makes a name for itself quite outside of Belle & Sebastian, coming off like the next in line of a lineage of singer-songwriters who exist on their own terms, from John Cale to Brian Eno to Elvis Costello. Far from just being twee, Jackson rocks out to a new wave beat on “Try Me,” singing “I got pills and I’m lookin’ for thrills/At the same time I want to start a family.” The distinctive, reverb-laden lead guitar he lends Belle & Sebastian is on songs like the lovely display on the Kinks-y “Richie.” And even at his most clearly indebted to Summer of Love-era rock, he creates a varied and thoroughly rewarding listen, notably on the swinging, Mamas & Papas-style “Where Do All the Good Girls Go?”
Doug Benson – Smug Life
Huge pot fan and hilarious comedian Doug Benson releases two different versions of the same jokes on Smug Life, both performed on April 20 (4/20!) at the same club. It plays like a case study in how varied performances of the same material can yield such different results — in one case, you hear a comment yelled from the audience that gets incorporated into the joke in the later performance.