It takes eight people to make the simple sound that is Belle and Sebastian. This Scottish wimp-pop band with the funny French name usually finds strength in numbers, but their new three song EP shows them getting down to business in under 13 minutes. The British (and Scottish, and Irish and miscellaneous U.K.-ish) kids already fancy Belle and Sebastian, as does a small cult of American college girls in thrift store cardigans and nouveau granny glasses and you should too.
If you don”t know about Belle and Sebastian, you”re rather behind the times (this album being something like their 12th official release), but hopefully now that you”ve found them, they aren”t past their prime. Their first major release, 1996″s If You”re Feeling Sinister, cemented their place in the hearts of indie geek girls and brokenhearted boys, but Belle and Sebastian have yet to top that Burt-Bacharach-meets-Travis-with-a-lisp perfection found on Sinister. Though it”s not for a lack of trying.
The band has attempted to add electronic elements (drum loops, samples) and rotate lead vocal duties over their subsequent albums, giving them an expanded and often uneven sound. Unfortunately, despite the band”s size and willingness to experiment, their best songs combine simplicity and old-fashioned melodic quality, not electronic pseudo-innovation or vocal variety. Though all of the band”s vocalists are talented, primary lead singer/writer Stuart Murdoch should act as the only lead singer/writer, as the band”s past attempts at executive democracy have done nothing but detract from their overall quality.
But Belle and Sebastian”s new, and teasingly brief, EP I”m Waking Up To Us offers a return to fine form. The title single floats a soft, acoustindie ditty over a cloud of strings and brass. Though the instant catch of Sinister has yet to be consistently recovered, each of Waking”s tracks has something poppy going for it. “I Love My Car” drives along with a trifecta of brass, bass and drums supplying the power and the pop, while “Marx and Engels” lets snappy little guitar and vibes bits snake sleekly through the piano part.
If they can keep this up for an entire album, Belle and Sebastian may be poised to make a comeback. A full-length sustentation of the song quality found on their recent singles (like this summer”s Jonathan David and this latest one) would definitely swing the Belle and Sebastian sound trajectory back in a positive direction. So, jump back on the Belle and Sebastian bandwagon before it regains much more musical momentum. The cardigan kids are on their way up again.