Belle and Sebastian have, in the past, been a band that has been steeped in a certain veil of mystique and eccentricity. Their sound had always been imbued with a certain level of experimental wonder, or as much experimental wonder that an indie-pop band could possibly imbue into their music while maintaining some level of commercial relevance. Perhaps it was their feature in 500 Days of Summer, and their songs in the Juno, that gave them a rather baffling level of mainstream success while maintaining an aura of obscurity in a time where obscurity seems to be regarded as featuring an entire orchestra of skin flutes in the backtrack of the song.
Their new album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, sticks to their penchant for the weird and wonderful world of indie-pop with commercial dance-styled hooks. It produces an interesting sound as the album can easily swing from off-beat, dance-styled indie pop to soaring ethereal tracks with dull drum tempos and soaring, ethereal synth lines with the dual Scottish vocals of Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson curling their faint accents around the fanciful experimental instrumental sections. This makes for interesting song transitions on the album, as it is dotted with songs inspired by late ’80s synth-pop mixed with early 2000s techno and songs which hint of influences from Radiohead and Depeche Mode – except less depressing.
It seems that Belle and Sebastian have opted for a much more upbeat, yet incredibly pretty album than their previous works. It is an album that is steeped with a certain level of whimsical happiness and an aloof sense of youth. That is until you pay attention to the lyrics and realize that you’re in-fact listening to an incredibly depressing album tempered with moments of optimism. It is as if the album was written for a coming-of-age film, despite them being a band that has been around since I was born, in 1996. You come face-to-face with the coming-of-age nature of the album in the song “Ever Had a Little Faith” as it deals with growing up and how you’ll eventually find your place and grow into yourself – this is done amidst delicate guitar chords and a cheery piano melody.
The introspective reflection on the coming-of-age is offset by the off-beat commercial dance hook of “Play for Today” before running into eccentric ’80s synthpop tempered by quirky indie-pop melody. The song digs into a cynical reflection on life, and begs the question of what is really the point of it when all we do is work to make ends meet, but it sounds incredibly happy despite the soul-crushing lyrical content. It is something Belle and Sebastian does really well and their lyrical themes and musical composition often intentionally juxtapose one another for the sake of emphasis.
Belle and Sebastian may have a unique sound, but after a while Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance loses its lustre and starts to drag towards the end. It may be a gorgeous album, and filled with lush synthetic textures and delicate melodies but it does very little to maintain your attention and it gradually becomes an album that is slotted into your shuffle playlist for the foreseeable future.