Monday, December 4, 2006

"She was in to S&M and Bible studies, not everyone's cup of tea she would admit to me"


#20 If You're Feeling Sinister, Belle And Sebastian, Matador, 1998

#20 has the distinction of being the only record in my Top 25 that I gave away because I didn't like it. Of course, the year was 1999 and I was committed to The Promise Ring, The Get Up Kids, and any other emo-rock outfit I could get my hands on. Despite the buzz I had read about B&S, when I got this record I was not ready for it: delicate vocals, instruments, and melodies, mixed with horns, strings, and piano, were not exactly moistening the...anyway, it just didn't grab me. So when Bowman came by and was like, "Hey, I love Belle and Sebastian," I was like "Love away" and tossed him the jewel case.

Fast forward to 2001 and my introduction to the short-lived glory of Radiofree Records in Durham. By that point, my musical palate was beginning to expand - I was using the Internet to find, download, and read about music, and Radiofree brought the virtual indie tunes into my actual hands via their eclectic, yet comprehensive, non-air conditioned selection. In this new home, I found a used copy of If You're Feeling Sinister and righted my error of two years previous.

As Belle and Sebastian's second full length, If You're Feeling Sinister has the distinction of being my favorite offering from the Scottish twee pop chanters (though Sarah's #25, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant is a close second). Snide, literary lyricism (best exemplified by a subject of the Queen lounging with a copy of Kafka's The Trial on the booklet) with balanced, yet variated orchestration best describes the album's overall feel. Stuart Murdoch's songwriting is at its best here as he tells stories of disaffected British youth, usually of the female variety, exploring their own ennui. Sound unbearable? It's actually quite addictive (just like The New Yorker). Murdoch's heady prose sinks its literary teeth into you quickly, a move often hidden by its light-hearted, catchy sound. Light strings and guitar mask the troubling questioning of one's vocation in "Fox in the Snow," "Like Dylan in the Movies"'s impassioned vocals and driving feel make you almost miss the fearful loneliness inscribed there, and "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying," which is pretty self-explanatory in content, sounds like something your parents danced to in high school. Throughout the entire record, Murdoch captures the confusing experience of adolescence: burgeoning sexuality, existential struggles, vapid melancholy, and groundless optimism. "The Stars of Track and Field" applies these themes to a female runner while "Me and the Major" ingeniously pits a young lad against a grouchy ex-military man obsessed with "taking it out on us." Far and away the best tracks on the record, though, are "If You're Feeling Sinister" and "Judy And the Dream of Horses." The former discusses the loss of faith in becoming an adult ("If you're feeling sinister/Go up and see your minister/He'll try and take away the pain of being a hopeless unbeliever") and the latter perfectly recounts the story of high school rebellion through the eyes of a dreamer ("Judy was a teenage rebel/She did it with a boy when she was young/She gave herself to books and learning/She gave herself to being number one"). God bless the B & S.

6 comments:

ATrain said...

I must confess, while I own "If You're Feeling Sinister" my reaction to it has always been "Well, that's unfortunate, because it sucks ass."

With the possible exception of "Dylan in the Movies" it just doesn't grab me. I might give it one more listen just for you, bro.

jphillip said...

Didn't Jack Black refer to Belle and Sebastian as "sad bastard music" in "High Fidelity"? If so, I pose the question to you, my friend: Are you a sad bastard?

Big Cougar said...

Sad bastard: Check.

ATrain, I am both appalled and mortified that you really dislike this record. However, I did once give the album away, so I can't come down too hard on you, you old S.O.B.

Papa Shoegaze said...

a-train...next time you visit bristol hall, i hope the lights go out and you trip and fall down the old rickety stairs...

ATrain said...

papa s - if i have it my way, i'll never visit bristol hall again...

daniel.brantley said...

i can't wait for the next kc alumni weekend!

see you all there!