Album Review: 'Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance' is a refreshing development for Belle & Sebastian
For decades, Belle & Sebastian have sustained an effortless quality which carried us through the tunes with ease, despite the more suggestive, telling lyrics that are artfully weaved in with the instrumentation. The band’s first album since 2010’s Write About Love, titled Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance, was released on Jan. 20 by Matador Records. What’s noteworthy: the record was mixed by Ben H. Allen III, known for his collaboration with Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley. And this was certainly our beloved Belle & Sebastian’s most upbeat, disco-ish release, calling on its cult of dedicated fans to open up to a fresh mood. Perhaps it’s too cliché, but hell, sometimes change can be a good thing, and this is one of those times! All fans should go with the band’s recent movement and dance along!
All the same, it isn’t too surprising that everyone isn’t a fan of this new front. Consequence of Sound writer Josh Terry gave the album a C+ rating and stated, “The band manages to blend their signature brand of subdued indie pop with new, bombastic disco cuts, but sometimes the disparity can be jarring.”
Granted this mood alteration can be shocking compared to the specific mood to which fans were accustomed, but this exploration is more refreshing than anything else. It’s less of an introspection, which their long line of albums until now have offered, but more of a “call to the dance floor,” as Terry deems it. After all, we can’t spend the entirety of our lives trapped in thought, since Murdoch sings, “The tricks in your head are a lie,” on the album’s second track, “Allie.”
Though the band’s founder Stuart Murdoch is seen as the glue that keeps the ensemble functioning, and perhaps more importantly, relevant, he takes the backseat for several tunes on this record. Instead, we find other members of the band taking on lead vocals. My favorite of these younger vocalists being Stevie Jackson, who sings “Perfect Couples.” The playful bopping around of a synth pad draws us into the lighthearted tune, which clocks in at five minutes and 29 seconds. Jackson repeatedly recites the line, “Perfect couples are breaking up!” before and after curious comments as to why he can’t be like them. Back in October 2014 at their L.A. performance, the band teased their release of Girls in Peacetime with this upbeat head-bopper. The energy offered up by Jackson’s live performance of this particular tune speaks to the strength of each individual member of the band and maybe even more so to their collective growth.
Impressively, the courageous acts of taking on a new sound and varying lead vocalists aren’t the only new features here; this also marks Belle and Sebastian’s first blatant take on a political theme. This is most present in “Allie,” in which Murdoch sings: “When there’s bombs in the Middle East / You want to hurt yourself / When there’s knives in the city streets / You want to end yourself.” Rather than leaving it to the listeners to decipher, the group daringly makes their views apparent in an obvious manner.
With nine studio albums in total, Belle & Sebastian turn their attention to different genres. With Girls in Peacetime, the group emphasizes its newfound appreciation of dance and disco music. It’s a testament to the band’s timelessness and ability to expand their musical horizons. If you aren’t already convinced that you should purchase this album, you can listen to the album for free on NPR’s First Listen beforehand.
Tickets for Belle & Sebastian’s tour dates can be found on its website. The band is performing at a number of venues in the West Coast this go-around, such as Seattle, Washington; Berkeley, California and Portland, Oregon to list just a few. They’ve expressed their eagerness to perform on their website when mentioning that these West Coast visits are long overdue.
Streams of the classic Belle & Sebastian sound blend with the new; and although we got a slight taste of the band’s upbeat nature with 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, it is nothing like the blatant command to set your worries aside that is felt in Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.
1. “Nobody’s Empire” 5:08
2. “Allie” 3:16
3. “The Party Line” 4:14
4. “The Power of Three” (Sarah Martin on lead vocals) 3:57
5. “The Cat with the Cream” 5:17
6. “Enter Sylvia Plath” 6:48
7. “The Everlasting Muse” 5:25
8. “Perfect Couples” (Stevie Jackson on lead vocals) 5:29
9. “Ever Had a Little Faith?” 4:21
10. “Play for Today” (Featuring Dee Dee Penny) 7:33
11. “The Book of You” (Sarah Martin on lead vocals) 4:23
12. “Today (This Army’s for Peace)” 5:25
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