First of all, not one of the band’s plethora of members (sometimes eight, sometimes nine or ten) is named either Belle or Sebastian. They got their name from a ’70s French cartoon by Mme. Cecil Aubrey called “Belle et Sebastian,” about a boy, his Pyrenees wolfhound, and the adventures they have. This is supposed to have something to do with the band. Why else would they spell it out on the back of every album they press?
Belle and Sebastian are not even four years old, and their debut album—1996’s Tigermilk—now sells for about 500 quid a pop in their native UK. That’s about a grand a piece, kids. The band got its big break only a few weeks after its conception by winning a undiscovered-artist competition in a Stow College Music Business course near their hometown Glasgow (that’s Scotland, not eastern Montana). Stuart David and Stuart Murdoch, co-founders, already had enough material to record an entire album for their contest-prize, so the college label Electric Honey Records pressed a thousand copies of the now-famous Tigermilk.
Within three months, the two Stuarts had permanently enrolled six more members, signed with Jeepster, and recorded their second album, If You’re Feeling Sinister. The productivity has continued thus far, with about a half-dozen EPs and now, a fourth album. Their newest release, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, has already sold thousands of copies in its first week on the streets.
So what’s the big deal with these blasted Scots? Belle and Sebastian may single-handedly restore your faith in pop music, if you care about such things. Nothing like them since the Beatles. Combining the simplicity of good Velvet Underground and the English accent-breathy vocals-flutes-and-tambourines of early Donovan, Belle and Sebastian have taken the three-and-a-half minute pop format to a level of near perfection. The lyrics are fairy tales about contemporary life for local kids. At first listen they may sound blasé, but I swear to you this is one of the most intelligently produced bands on the planet.
And they milk the production for all its worth. They religiously adhere to minimal instrumentation—it sounds like there’s three or four musicians, not eight or nine. But just when you’re comfortable with the organ, bass, guitar and drum, they throw a trumpet solo at you between choruses. Or the Donovan-esque flute. It sounds like an overly simple plan for success, but it works.
And it appears that the sky is the limit. The upcoming western U.S. tour is generating the anticipation you’d expect from Kurt Cobain emerging from the tomb. The new album will probably go platinum or something. And for once, it actually deserves it. (BR)