My admittedly limited collegiate experiences have taught me that college bands are typically too immature and overeager to focus on creating one particular type of sound. Excited by the process and possibility of acceptance, young talents generally create a scurried amalgamation of sounds that derive from their personal strengths or multiple mutual interests and inspirations. In the early ’90s, from the quiet, urban campus of Stow University in Glasgow, Scotland emerged a college band of this definition. An indescribable collection of musicians – including the now famous Stuart Murdoch – were recognized by a music professor at Stow, Alan Rankine, who guided the young tribe into their first recording studio.

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

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Belle & Sebastian
Matador


Upon gaining more members and momentum, the fresh-faced band produced their first full-length album at the college’s record label as Belle & Sebastian. The album, titled Tigermilk, was met with mild acclaim. Multiple albums followed with a couple subtractions and additions from the group, and the Scottish band entered the 21st century as a critically acclaimed indie band. Purposely eccentric and traditionally adventurous, Belle & Sebastian has inspired the work of many: modern bands like Vampire Weekend, The Shins and Arcade Fire have created content filled with definitive strains of Belle & Sebastian’s influence. Wistful lyrics and pop music, or sad lyrics with a quiet acoustic guitar, Belle & Sebastian has aged into a musical anomaly. Changing constantly, and vaguely described as a “folk-pop” band, the group has never really been defined by anything certain. Although containing the maturity and talent of an aged collection of musicians, Belle & Sebastian’s musical randomness keeps the band as collegiate as ever.

Ending a five-year hiatus the band took for equally random side projects, this well-awaited ninth album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance greets fans of new and old in a state of noticeable depression.

The first song of the album, “Nobody’s Empire,” tells the story of a boy getting tested and touched by doctors because he won’t leave his room. Wheninterviewed by The Guardian, Murdoch described the opening track as a testament to his daily struggle against myalgic encephalomyelitis, a chronic fatigue disorder causing constant emotional and physical stagnation. The group’s lyrics dip in and out of Murdoch’s personal vat of human sadness consistently throughout the album. The listener is then slipped into the taunting mind of a young girl named Allie who, in a song of the same title, is telling herself “When there are bombs in the Middle East / you want to hurt yourself / When there’s knives in the streets you want to end yourself.” More political than Belle & Sebastian has ever dared to be, the song tells the story of an anxious adolescent battling our violent world — all set to a happy-go-lucky beat and growing electric guitar sound. Here salutations should be administered once again to the perfected randomness of Belle & Sebastian.

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is deliciously synthesized. Upbeat and fun, “Enter Sylvia Plath” and “The Party Line” are cousins of a Fitz & the Tantrums dance number. “Enter Sylvia Plath” is an especially interesting song; never before has music so synthesized or joyful held Sylvia Plath as the subject. And “The Party Line,” the first single off the album, is a Pet Shop Boys number that is sure to excite the crowds and reiterate the band’s relevance at their upcoming summer festival engagements, including Coachella and Bonnaroo.

Coffee-sipping, slow morning songs reminiscent of Dear Catastrophe Waitress and other early Belle & Sebastian reappears in tracks “The Power of Three” and “Ever Had a Little Faith.” Sarah Martin, the keyboardist and occasional vocalist of the band, tells an ironic and seemingly precious story in “The Power of Three.” Filled with references to the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the concern that “Everybody has their Moriarty,” the song is another reminder that time has not lessened the random genius of this clever little band.

Idiosyncratic and overall upbeat, these Glaswegian musicians have released a ninth album far better than most veteran bands. Age and time haven’t lessened the talents of this mismatched group. Instead, they have made the band highly aware of its audience and the freedoms that those followers will continue to adore. This old indie band has the following of a popular college band, one that a university will ardently support despite artistic strangeness.

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