Album Reviews - Reviews

Belle and Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance


Nineteen years and nine albums later, Belle and Sebastian still prove to be a true testament of youth. Nearly two decades after the release of their debut album Tiger Milk, ninth studio album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance finds a sound that carries the torch of their primordial folk roots while embracing the changing tastes of an alt-oriented audience.

Distributed by Matador Records, the album marks the band’s first release with the US indie label and the first with Atlanta-based producer Ben H. Allen III. Given this tenuous moment in the Glasgow group’s prolific career, the change in direction reads a natural desire to shake up the scene, keep things fresh, and stay a grip on the ears of young indie-pop lovers. Artists eschew becoming stale with such a move, but the risk is jumping the shark. No one, artist or not, wants to be seen as a try-hard. However, Belle and Sebastian deftly venture over the soft threshold of their mellow folk without overstretching the limits of their iconic qualities. Allen’s penchant for ferrying artists to the banks of synth pop proves no exception here, instilling a dance-infused quality in the group’s iconic sound which mirrors his work with UK folk band Fanfarlo on their 2012 album Rooms Filled with Light. His new-age style, however, does not rob Belle and Sebastian of their own.

Their introspective poetics lose no force in humor and narrative as the album dances through groovy tracks like ‘Party Line’ and ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’. Meanwhile, ‘Ever Had a Little Faith’ lulls a strum of the electric that smiles softly as it echoes early work one might hear on If You’re Feeling Sinister.  Even ‘Nobody’s Empire’ jogs across piano keys in homage to both ends of the new spectrum. Lead-singer Stuart Murdoch continues a streak of soft sincerity in his lyrics and vocals. Yet by incorporating the voice of younger indie-rock goddess Dee Dee Penny on ‘Play For Today’, the group invites a rotation that doesn’t feel like they’re ditching their past but rather acknowledging the maturation of a new generation of artist. The move serves to empower their sound and speaks to the intentions of the project as a whole.

Sitting at twelve tracks which span the course of little over an hour, the album, like any of such length, has the potential to drag on. Yet this group manages the same grounded frankness and pleasantry that has held their audience captive over two decades of long tracks. Delivered from the viewpoint of a woman named Allie, the album plays to the band’s talent for abstract story-telling and wistful reflections on past youth. Not too sweet to the point of revulsion, nor too ethereal to the point of losing interest, the work is proof of the band’s staying power. Belle and Sebastian continue to find a genuine simplicity that speaks to the best of their brand, and they don’t lose the core of their being on this new venture in progressive pop. Their upcoming tour across Australia, SE Asia, North America, and the UK will prove an exciting litmus test as to how the new work fares in the face of their indie-rock legacy. The line-up alone, however, testifies the anticipation felt by fans the world over. And Ireland will get its own sense of the band’s new headlining act at this summer’s Electric Picnic when Belle and Sebastian take on the glorious festival. Joe Madsen