The first time I listened to Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, I had the same feeling you get when the quietest kid in class finally gets the courage to speak up, and says something completely unexpected but totally brilliant. In the case of Animal Collective, the lovable indie weirdos had worked just enough pop, and just enough clean production into their typically idiosyncratic sound that you finally felt like you could understand what they’d been trying to express in all of their previous albums. It was beautiful, it was (*burps*) accessible, but it was still unique. Merriweather was a magnum opus—six (!) years after its release, it still knocks me out when I hear it.
Enter Glasgow, Scotland’s Belle and Sebastian, who, to make a long story short, attempt to create a Merriweather of their own with Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. Belle and Sebastian have long been the masters of verbose sad-pop for indie snobs (note: this is not a bad thing), which makes the heavily produced danciness of certain tracks on Girls in Peacetime a little disconcerting. The relentless beat of “Perfect Couples” seems better suited for one of those mid-2000s UK alternative-remix albums I so treasure than a Belle and Sebastian album, even if its sharply observed lyrics beg to differ: “Sexual tension at the fridge / He makes for the organic figs / Belmondo lips, dangling a cig.”
Despite this (and the even more shockingly clubby “Enter Sylvia Plath”), there’s plenty to love if you’re seeking more typical Belle and Sebastian fare. I’d argue that “The Everlasting Muse,” with its jazz-style bass line and British-drinking-song-style breakdown, is the most intriguing. Meanwhile, the album opener, “Nobody’s Empire,” is a rare look into singer Stuart Murdoch’s chronic illness prior to forming the band in the early ’90s.
But is there another “The Blues are Still Blue,” earth-shattering earworm here? No. It’s a good collection of songs, required listening for serious fans, and, if anything, an interesting foray into some new musical territory. I suspect this band knows they can do better, though, and if that gives them cause to continue producing new music, that’s probably a good thing.
Girls in Peacetime is out now via Matador—find it at your favorite local record seller.