Album Listening Club – If You’re Feeling Sinister discussion post

I chose this picture because there’s something sinister about a town named Kill Devil Hills

Belle and Sebastian are a Scottish group that formed in 1996 in Glasgow. I recall reading about them in the music magazines of the time, like Spin and maybe Rolling Stone. 1996 was a down musical period for me – having just parted ways with my band the year before, and then marrying my wife, getting a “real” job and buying a house, I was doing other things than concentrating on music. My house was out in the suburbs where there wasn’t a good record store close, and this was just as the Internet was getting going so we didn’t have a way to preview albums. I read about them, but never heard them.

I’ll save my “when I heard them” story for my review. I’d like to hear how you heard of B&S and where/when you heard them. Gimme some stories!

Now – let’s get clubbing!

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s rreply
October 19, 2014 at 10:00 pm

I went to college in Iowa City, Iowa. My friends and I used to meet up in a local bar a few times a week. The place had a great jukebox and I would always put in a few quarters to hear the song "Pretty Ballerina” by the Lefte Bank. The lefte Bank is best known for their sixties hit “Walk Away Renee”. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for sixties pop… So what does this have to do with Belle and Sebastian you may ask? Wait a second.

In the nineties I was in graduate school at another state university in Iowa. I spent a lot of time on the road listening to top forty radio. I wasn’t seeing my “music” friends much and just didn’t have time to seek out music beyond stuff that was presented to me on a silver platter. The first B & S record I heard was Tigermilk. I thought it was lovely and began to delve in. Sometime last year I watched this documentary about the making of “If you’re Feeling Sinister" and it all came together for me, when one of the band members said they intended for the first record to sound like The Lefte Banke and…wait for it…especially the song “Pretty Ballerina”. There it was my love for B & S instantly explained.

Everything they’ve done has been beautiful, funny, understated pop gold. The first record contains some of my favorite B & S songs “Stars of Track and Field” (love the lyrics), “The Boy done Wrong Again”, “Judy and Her Dream of Horses”. It was pop music that described the lives of people like me and fit exactly into my sweet spot ala “Pretty Ballerina”. If I had to choose a single band that sounds like 'home’ to me (the place where I live) it would be Belle and Sebastian.

s rreply
October 19, 2014 at 10:32 pm

All my book learnin' and I still can't spell. *Left Banke

October 20, 2014 at 5:59 am

First off, I must say that I own & love B & S's debut Tigermilk. It's varied & instantly catchy & I came to it in the early '00s although at that time I didn't think that it was those descriptors. It wasn't until '04 or '05 that I came upon it again in my cd collection & decided to give it another listen. That's when it stuck.

Unfortunately, IYFS is not Tigermilk. I had heard it a few years back & wasn't impressed like I was w/Tigermilk, so didn't bother to listen further. When I listened to it for this review, upon first listen I thought it was just ok since, to my ears it just seemed to blend all together w/the same sound. On 2nd listen the nuances started manifesting themselves though. The song 'The Stars Of Track & Field' is the standout with it's catchy chorus. There are two slower songs that stood out as well 'The Fox In The Snow' & 'The Boy Done Wrong Again' which are both beautiful in their simple approaches.

I basically had gotten into them since I knew they were critically acclaimed indie darlings and I saw their albums hitting many year end lists. But critical acclaim doesn't always a great album make. Such is the case for me with IYFS. But one thing I noticed on my 3rd listen through was the lyrics which were quite poetic and told some interesting stories. I think B & S's storytelling lyricism is what is the major draw for them. But I'm not a big lyric person. To me the voice & lyrics are just another instrument that adds to the texture of a song. I have to listen to an album a lot for the lyrics to jump out at me. Not sure why this is but that's how it is for me. So maybe that's why I haven't been able to get into B & S all that much except for Tigermilk.

Sam Rreply
October 22, 2014 at 10:05 am

I couldn't tell you when first I heard Belle and Sebastian, but I suspect Sam here introduced me to them in with a song or two over a decade ago.

I've listened to IYFS several times, now, and my response is mixed.

The sixties pop feel is strong, as "s r" mentions. I hear it in the understated bass and drum lines of Dylan in the Movies, the reverb-soaked trumpet on Stars of Track and Field, and the light synth and bright guitar in Mayfly. The piano intro on Seeing Other People could be at home in a Peanuts/Vince Guaraldi album. I generally like the feel of sixties pop.

For me, the tendency toward repetitious outro hurts a number of the songs. I rather like Me and the Major, but 1:09 of the 3:52 song is a single-note repetition over a harmonica solo… It could have faded out by 2:54 or even 3:05. I expect I will find myself hitting "Next" before the ends. While I like the instrumentation on Stars of Track and Field, the last two minutes are dissonant repetitions. Fully one quarter of the song is the ending repetitions in Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying.

Dylan in the Movies: I could listen to almost any time. I like everything about it.

Me and the Major: I like this faster, lighter song, though my complaints about the outro are already registered.

Judy and the Dream of Horses and Mayfly I like, but to a lesser extent.

The "background noise" in If Your Feeling Sinister is badly distracting for me and the lyrics don't really grab me.

I guess I don't relate well to much of this album. I'm glad to have listened, and found a couple of songs I like, but it's not an album I will find myself playing straight through while lying on the couch one weekend.

Alan Ralphreply
October 22, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I remember being vaguely aware of Belle & Sebastian from listening to BBC Radio 1 in the evenings during the late 90s and early 2000s – the Evening Sessions with Steve Lamacq, and of course the mighty John Peel. 🙂

Sadly, I don't think any of their songs registered in my brain at the time, and listening to "If You're Feeling Sinister" didn't jog anything either. *shrug* I might go give "Tigermilk", their debut album, a listen sometime.

-Your Older Brother, Samreply
October 22, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I had a sketch of my thoughts written down, and here's the meat of it:

"Can't say that I love the album. But I've never loved Belle & Sebastian. There was a lot of hype/talk about them back in the mid-late 90's and when The Boy With The Arab Strap was out, I got that record through BMG or someplace because I wanted to hear what all of the fuss was about. (This was pre-Napster & iTunes, of course, one couldn't just listen to a record.) I listened to it a few times but it never grabbed me, and every time I've gone back to listen to B&S, I still don't get it."

That said, I've been reading the stories here as they've trickled in, and this is *exactly* why I love the Listening Club! Reading sr's tale about the jukebox and how B&S feel like home – I can't really deny those types of feelings, especially from friends. And when she wrote "funny," well, it was clear I was missing something. So I went back for a couple more listens.

The humor is mostly very dry, and reminded me of their countryman Robert Burns in how they turn phrases and expose the highs as lows. I listened to "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying," which I had pegged as simply a jaunty tune and on further listenings I hear the humor in the lyrics. "You could either be successful or be us" – a couplet that speaks pretty directly to the whole of B&S's career it seems.

The more serious songs ("Stars of Track and Field") have characters and situations that read like Salinger characters, which would speak to their critical acclaim – critics just love literary shit. 🙂 I hear more character in the songs now, and I kind of feel like I'm missing something in the lyrics, which makes me want to dig a little deeper, which then leads me to liking the songs.

So, all of that to say that I'm definitely more open to Belle & Sebastian now. I have a proper context in my brain to move forward with them now. Some songs I'll still find boring or derivative, I'm sure, but I won't just write them off like I have before. And I'm hearing these songs in autumn (northern hemisphere), which seems like a perfect time to discover Belle & Sebastian. 🙂

Thanks, sr, and thanks Listening Club!!

-Your Older Brother, Samreply
October 22, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Thanks for the stories and perspective. 🙂 I definitely went back for another listen! It was definitely puzzling for me how I could not like a band that sounded so much like the Jazz Butcher and Kings of Convenience and Nick Drake. I think I'm on the path to changing that opinion, at least a little. 🙂

It probably won't be an everyday listen, but I'll give them more of a shot than I used to.

-Your Older Brother, Samreply
October 22, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I tend to not be a lyrics person, or rather, it depends on the song, band, and mood. 😀 I guess I hear the lyrics, listen & learn them, and then kind of forget them or don't delve in too much. My best example is "I am paralyzed/by the blood of Christ" by the Cure. It was only recently (like, past 5 years or so) that I realized that when he says "blood of Christ" he means wine, and that he's drunk. DUH, right? 😀

Knowing that I can gloss over lyrics like that has me looking a bit more into the lyrics here – would be interested in knowing more about the stories, but perhaps they are more allegorical or composites than a real person – like the people in the Hold Steady lyrics. Vehicles to convey an opinion or shine a light on some of society's ills.

-Your Older Brother, Samreply
October 22, 2014 at 3:32 pm

I said the same thing in my notes about the piano on "Seeing Other People"!

"Charlie Brown piano & drums. "Gigolo…woah woah" Are these guys kidding? Or is this supposed to be serious like VU?"

I definitely agree with you with regards to the long, repetitive outros. I've never really been a fan of that, unless it's used to a grand effect like in "Goodbye Sky Harbor" by Jimmy Eat World, where it builds and shifts to a crescendo. Or the "Never Learn" part of "Never Lose That Feeling/Never Learn" by Swervedriver where it serves as the base for an extended noise poem/jam.

And the lyrics to "If You're Feeling Sinister" definitely brought me in, once I took a look at them without the music. I know you have a connection to language like I do, maybe go to SongMeanings and read through the lyrics while some of the music plays:

I don't find myself being a huge B&S fan, but I relate to it better than I used to. 🙂

-Your Older Brother, Samreply
October 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I guess I need to listen to Tigermilk now as well, seeing how it's so highly regarded. I think for me, if you read my thoughts on it, I'll probably wade around in If You're Feeling Sinister for a while more, just to get used to it, before I move on to exploring more of their other records. I think I actually bought Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like A Peasant, not Boy with the Arab Strap. I don't think I really listened to the lyrics and just heard the music and didn't give it much thought. The lyrics tend to be key, I think, and if you're able to come to an understanding there then the music will reveal itself.

Or maybe I'm just now sounding like one of those stuffy critics. 😀

Sam Rreply
October 22, 2014 at 10:33 pm

While writing my comments I was bouncing back-and-forth between the songs, skimming around them, and looking up the lyrics. I sometimes go to SongMeanings, but I find the theories sometimes more distracting than helpful.

-Your Older Brother, Samreply
October 22, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Yeah, there are a lot of "Sex. It has to do with sex." which is fine, if there's evidence to support that. 😀 Many times there's not evidence, however.

I'll read one and my mind will go down that road but then I read a few more and they all sort of jumble together and diffuse. 🙂

s rreply
October 23, 2014 at 1:32 am

I guess there's a fine line between boring and derivative, and familiar and already loved, which is how I experienced them. The difference I guess is mostly due to the way my musical aesthetic was shaped. I guess I do find the idea of a guy singing about running in his terry underwear funny and more relatable I guess, than someone dating a ballerina. I'm not trying to sell anyone, mind you. :))

-Your Older Brother, Samreply
October 23, 2014 at 1:58 am

That's what was interesting about B&S that I mentioned upthread – I love the Jazz Butcher, Nick Drake, and Kings of Convenience. There's not that much of a leap musically or lyrically to Belle and Sebastian, but I just couldn't make the jump for years. I'm definitely more on track now. 🙂

October 24, 2014 at 4:57 am

Thank you for orchestrating all this!

-Your Older Brother, Samreply
October 24, 2014 at 5:34 pm

It's really been my pleasure, August. I love discovering new music and helping people discover new things as well. As much as I'd like to see some more participation from the people who have signed up (there are about 50 right now), I think we've got a great core to build from, and the discussions & stories are getting more interesting! 🙂

October 29, 2014 at 6:08 am

Btw, I went & listened to B & S's newest ep 'Books' that was released earlier this year as well as their '10 album 'Write About Love' and they definitely have come a long way in their songwriting skill w/o losing their signature sound. Definitely catchier, enjoyable tunes. Also I just found out today that they're getting ready to release a new album in '15 and released a song called 'The Party Line' from it which is quite a departure. Here's a link to the youtube music only video: Let me know what you think.

-Your Older Brother, Samreply
October 29, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Thanks for the update, August! "The Party Line" is definitely as you say – still B&S but is a significant departure (instrument-wise) from these early songs. I'll be picking my way around the B&S catalog for a while to hear what else I can find. 🙂

November 17, 2014 at 4:39 pm

You're very welcome. I really like it. It has an '80s vibe to it but reminds me of the band !!! or Arcade Fire.

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