After a nearly five year hiatus, the Glasgow natives, Belle and Sebastian, reunite with the group’s ninth studio album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. That’s not to say that the members of the band have not been keeping busy though. In 2014, the lead singer Stuart Murdoch wrote and directed the film God Help The Girl, after making a soundtrack to the film with his musical side project of the same name back in 2009. The film was way too quirky for my tastes, and I was really worried this new record would have the same effect on me, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was I wrong.
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is sonically a breath of fresh air for Belle and Sebastian. While staying true to emotional lyrics revolving around personal struggle, the band is able to deliver a new record with some of the danciest tracks yet of its long career. And even with these groove heavy, synth backed dance tracks, the band slows it down on to recall the more classic B&S style with Murdoch’s fragile voice seeming to almost flow through incredibly soothing instrumentals.
While the band is known for lyrics about love and personal issues, they do venture into some new ideas. On the record’s opening track “Nobodys Empire,” Murdoch directly sings about his troubled bedridden past due to his Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, along the emotional pain it caused him (“I clung to the bed, and I clung to the past / And I clung to the welcome darkness / But at the end of the night / There’s a green green light / It’s the quiet before the madness”), making this track one of the more personal ones that Murdoch has ever written. They do also prod at some political issues on some tracks like on the odd and seemingly joyous, bouncy track “Allie,” where Murdoch opens the track with the lines “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,”. While they do stick to their classic lyrical styling for most of the record, it is interesting to see the band venture into new territory in that sense.
Personally, what really sets this record apart from Belle and Sebastian’s back catalogue is the production, done by Ben H. Allen. Allen has produced records for many widely popular indie acts including Bombay Bicycle Club, Deerhunter, Matt and Kim, Washed Out, and Animal Collective, just to name a few. Every track on this album, whether it be slow and emotional or fast and dancey, sounds incredibly full and pleasing to the ear. There is always something backing the regular instruments like a pulsating synth line or an elegant string section in the mix leaving very few dull moments on the record.
This record is not without its flaws, though. One of the few negative things about Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is that while the songs are incredibly sonically fulfilling, some of them are not particularly memorable. Another thing point of annoyance was the song length, with multiple songs pushing five to seven minutes, seemingly staying well past their welcome and could have been easily cut out. Spanning 12 tracks, the record is just over an hour long. The length does make it a bit discouraging to sit and listen through the whole thing, but is still overall an incredibly fun listen.
It is really an amazing thing to see such a massively established and well followed band still taking risks in their music that really that pays off. After almost 20 years of incredibly solid, mostly well received output, Belle and Sebastian are still making advances and still seem to be at the top of their game. While this new record doesn’t hold up as much compared to their classic albums like Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, it is still a great, refreshing record.