For the first edition of the Micro review of January I shall be talking about two rather… twee bands, Belle And Sebastian as well as The Decemberists.
Belle And Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
For Belle and Sebastian’s ninth album they decided that they wanted to take the name of their album rather literally. B&S have always been one of the Indie rock’s most sensitive bands, sporting an acoustic, delicate sound that’s run throughout their extremely solid back catalogue as they’ve made songs that are so sweet yet self-aware. This album has them going for a change of pace.
On ‘Girls In Peacetime…’ B&S attempt to distance themselves away from the sound that they’ve become famous for. They take influence from Europop and try to make an album that you can dance to, sporting synthesisers all over the place even when you don’t expect them to. The problem is that they don’t quite have the guts to distance themselves fully from it and it all becomes rather confusing on the ears because although the synthesisers are used frequently, they’re used without the band fully embracing the sound. It sounds like they’re awkwardly trying to use it as another tool to add to their arsenal that already includes a beautiful array of instrumentation. Especially when on some of the tracks it just sounds like classic B&S with no signs of change – it makes for a very incoherent record.
That’s not to say it doesn’t work all of the time, the opening song is brilliant with it having flashing synths, grand pianos and is also one of the most personal songs that B&S have ever written (which is saying something considering their catalogue). It’s just that elsewhere songs like ‘The Party Line’ feel out of place and even heartless compared to the more sombre moments on the album which can be beautiful like the delicate ‘The Cat With The Cream’. ‘Girls In Peacetime…’ isn’t a bad album, just one that’s scared to commit sonically. Who knows Belle and Sebastian might be able to make a great dance album in the future.
Best Tracks: Today (This Army’s For Peace), The Cat With The Cream
The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
The Decemberists’ last album ‘The King Is Dead’ saw them approaching their album in a much more linear structure, with them somewhat straying from their oddities that made them so beloved to so many people. The extremely over the top and obscure lyrics and what some might say gimmicks from their early material was toned down, and now on ‘What a Terrible World…’ they tone it down even further.
They address this in their first song on the album with lyrics that speak directly to the fans like Hip-Hop artists do telling them about how they had to change. A change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I mean how long can a band go on singing about revenge, whores and barrow boys before it becomes tedious? But maturity doesn’t mean it has to be boring, which is a trap that The Decemberists fall into on this album.
All of the songs on this album are so much more simpler than what we’re used to from these guys and even though the song-writing is personal and the wit is still in place in the lyrics, it never feels quite as spellbinding as their earlier material. It almost feels as if when a child grows up and loses their vast imagination – there’s no narratives and interesting characters thought up on this record. That being said, there are still some lavish instrumentals on this album that you’d expect from the band and lead singer Colin Meloy’s vocals are always engaging and passionate especially when he harmonises with Jenny Conlee on the song ‘Make You Better’. Even though this isn’t a bad record it’s just not enough to be memorable, it suffers from being ambitious in length, and unambitious with song-writing.
Best Tracks: Make You Better, A Beginning Song