belle and sebastian

The Playlist: Q1 2014

There is a clubnight which exists only in the space between my headphones and spinal cord. Where people dance all night, even to the songs you can’t really dance to. For the months of January, February and March 2014, this was that club’s setlist. Charli XCX – SuperLove This passed me by first time around, until Sam ‘Afternoon Delight’ Willet chucked it my way on Facebook. And ka-clunk, it was the soundtrack to the next month of my life. And look, I talk about the imaginary clubnight, but this was the one song that made me want to actually take my creaky, clumsy body out and find a dancefloor where it’s playing. Every time I hear it, I want to grab the right friends just as it kicks in and shout the wrong words and debut the private macarena I’ve been practicing in bathroom mirrors. And mouthing “I think your hair looks much better pushed over to one side/How do you feel about me?” to my reflection in a particularly shiny shop window, I’ve caught myself figuring out exactly how much work it would be to set up that clubnight for real. Belle & Sebastian – Suicide Girl I love when Belle & Sebastian talk dirty.  Suicide Girl – which I first encountered on their rather uneven collection of B-sides and rarities The Third Eye Centre – takes the typical brittle indie-boy unrequited romance and reconfigures it into something more physical. The song asks the age-old question: Would you photograph your crush naked so the pictures could uploaded onto the internet for the enjoyment of strangers? “Once she takes off her clothes, we’ll never be the same again”, the song concludes as it reaches an all-too-sudden climax, just two and a half minutes in. Well, quite. Joanna Gruesome – Secret Surprise A song that sounds like it could be taking place inside someone’s chest cavity. Whether sweely whispering or all-out screaming or divebombing between the two, Alanna McArdle’s vocals constantly draw attention to the breath each line is using up. The drum is a basic pounding heartbeat, building to a minor attack by the end of the track. Each stab of guitar is like a shudder running up your spine, the whole messy thing echoing off the inner walls of your ribcage. Secret Surprise takes that all-too-familiar unrequited love subgenre and flips it so our protagonist is the object, rather than the subject. Or, maybe it’s an entry in the fairly new suffocating-your-other-half-with-a-pillow-while-they-sleep subgenre. Broken Bells – Holding On for Life/St. Vincent – Digital Witness Two songs for which I have to thank the BBC Radio 6Music playlist. Remarkably, despite 6Music being my office’s station of choice, meaning while they were playlisted I heard these tracks three or four times a day without any choice in the matter, neither has really worn out its welcome. It helps, I think, that they both sound slightly alien in their own way, whether it’s Holding On for Life‘s pitch-shifted Beegees chorus or the bits of Digital Witness that sound like they’re being played backwards. Sophie – Bipp The lyrical heart of Bipp, “I can make you feel better”, is half a promise being made by the narrator to you, the lover, and half a contract the song is making with you, the listener. A few dozen listens in, it’s a guarantee Sophie is yet to break. Johnny Foreigner – In CapitalsIn Capitals has me reaching for the toolbox of music journalism clichés. It’s an absolute Frankenstein of a song, pieced together from scraps of four or five other half-songs. It’s a rollercoaster of a song, repeatedly climbing to a peak, sitting on the ledge just for a moment, then plunging down, slowing and starting over. It’s a finely-tuned firework display of a song, a series of little explosions, big and small, working in perfect concert. Just because I can’t talk about it adequately doesn’t mean the song isn’t great, mind. Ibibio Sound Machine – Let’s Dance (Yak Inek Unek)“1, 2, 3, 4. Let’s dance.” As far as I can tell, those are the only English words in the whole track. Frankly – and this would be the case even if the rest wasn’t in Nigerian Ibibio – they’re the only ones that matter. I’m a sucker for songs that are this explicitly instructive, as long as they’ve got the beat to back it up. And this really, really does. 1. 2. 3. 4… Chromatics – LadyListening to Lady, I sometimes feel like I can hear through the song itself to the instruments it’s made out of, great fictional instruments which fill the sewer systems of entire cities, which were built at great human cost, entirely for the purpose of making an androgynous love song and giving me something to dance to when I’m in the flat on my own. I don’t know about you, but I like that kind of arrogance in my synthpop. Neneh Cherry feat Robyn – Out of the BlackRobyn’s the reason I listened to Out of the Black enough to put it on this list (I just miss her, that’s all), but she’s not the star. Honestly, she might be the weak link. I love the way her voice braids with Neneh’s on the chorus, but the way she delivers some lines (“I’m Robyn on the microphone, into the speaker”) is actually quite ugly. No, the star here is that beat, sneaking, oppressive, a shadow looming in your peripherals. Delicious. Burial – HidersHaving read some reviews of last year’s Rival Dealer EP, Hiders seems to be consistently singled out for its accessible. Or, if it’s that kind of publication, a bit too pop. A bit tacky. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that’s it the first Burial track to make any real impression on me. There are moments throughout where Hiders constantly threatens to crystallise into a spectral pop song, before moving on, shedding the skin of the last hook to drop in a new voice, a new sample, some environmental sound tweaked just so. By doing that, it manages to […]

ALEX’s Best Of 2010: Belle & Sebastian, Live

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] Birmingham Town Hall Symphony Hall, 6/12/10 The ‘call to arms’ is one of pop’s most common tropes. From P!nk to Pulp, Gaga to MCR, making yourself the carefully-styled face of the disenfranchised is a sure-fire way to sell more posters. But this is Belle & Sebastian. If ever a group of people was put on this earth to give freaks and literary geeks a rallying point, they all met in Glasgow in the mid ‘90s, formed this shy indie band, and produced quiet, sad, pretty songs for quiet sad people: not necessarily so much pretty. They’re just not like the other boys at school, everything screams, as loud as it dares. Looking around at the crowd produced a wide range of cardigans and specs. There were a lot of shoes which spent their entire lives under very close scrutiny. So, of course there was going to be an orchestra. Of course it was going to be sitting down in the Symphony Hall. The support act was always going to be a comedian telling a musical story about a kid and his quiet dramas and struggles at school. It was a Belle & Sebastian concert, it was always going to be different. It was just a gig. Of course there were going to be songs I didn’t know. A lull in the middle of the set. People dancing to the old classics. Of course, every single one of those dancers was a standing individual in the aisles of a completely sat-down hall. So when little groups got up, you noticed. And, providing you’re me, you smiled an irrepressible smile. Of which there were plenty. The gig wasn’t just a call to arms, it was a call to feet. The entire show was geared towards gathering a load of introverts in one room and getting them involved, getting them on stage and – most importantly – getting them dancing. I’m pigeonholing B&S fans here, for effect. But putting awkward types into a room which actively discourages standing up and moving (not to mention the frowning security guards) and working really flipping hard to make them dance? It couldn’t help but feel like an outreach programme. The clichéd jaunts into the crowd became something different. Not sweaty union or challenge, letting everyone touch their hero. Instead, a friendly hand on the shoulder, pushing the boundaries of our polite comfort zones just a little. Marking this out as our space, as the self-monikered ‘Uncle Stuart’ told us it was. And the more human they were, the more Stuart forgot lines or they fluffed between-song banter, the more it felt like a coming together, a celebration of shared awkwardness. Unlike the two boys in the orchestra who stood up to do an impromptu dance to the last couple of songs, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get involved: I didn’t dance. Honestly, I really meant to. I was just waiting for that perfect last song, which never came. Of course it didn’t. After all, it was just a gig. About the author: Alex Spencer is a pop-cultural omnivore. He isalso a culinary omnivore, but has never eatena pig’s heart. He hopes this doesn’t make him acoward or hypocrite, but suspects it might. He livesinside his head, with three dogs, and a Pikachu.