Belle & Sebastian have returned after an absence of five years from the music scene (this seems to be a recurring theme of late!) like the prodigal son of eerie indie dream pop. But are we happy to see them, or do we want to send them on their way?
The album is an odd mix of disco and their more familiar brand of dream like folk pop that is their normal style, and I’m not sure it entirely works well at either because it doesn’t fully commit to either one idea. If this had been an entire album that had been a disco departure, like the sublime Random Access Memories by Daft Punk I feel like it could have been a lot stronger. However, what we get instead is the band dipping their toe into something that doesn’t really feel like it works, which is a shame because when they play to their strong points on this album of playing nostalgic yearning pop they largely succeed. Tracks like Nobody’s Empire and The Cat With the Cream are both really strong tracks that speak of the Belle & Sebastian we know, whilst the disco tracks are pretty catchy, but ultimately just don’t feel as strong.
The Party Line is a real departure from Belle & Sebastian’s style, taking the form of a Eurovision dance track rather than the wistful pop they normally trade in, it’s actually pretty catchy. The Power of Three continues the disco theme, and is a breathy Abba-esque tribute to the Three Muskateers which immediately called to mind memories of Dogtanian & the Three Muskahounds and also 80’s anime themes.
This isn’t to say that Girls in Peacetime is a bad album, but it does feel half-baked, and I feel like it would have benefited much more by choosing to either be a complete departure from what Belle & Sebastian normally do, or to be a traditional album by them. It feels like two albums fused together that only sort of works, which is a shame because the potential for an interesting album lies beneath the skin.
It’s worth giving the album a listen, but I don’t know if I can recommend buying the full album. Luckily the band put up a stream of the whole album on NME recently, so if you’re curious, check it out.
However, I would definitely recommend seeing them at Sound City this year. Although I don’t think this album succeeded at what it set out to do they’re still a great band with a great discography of songs that you’d be a fool to miss out on Live.
So, ideally I try my best to cover only the newest of albums, bar the very occasional retrospective when I do a Longplay article, but seeing as I want to chiefly cover sound city artists from now until May I’m going to be going back a few years into the archives so I can deliver on my promise to you, my few loyal readers.
The Vaccines are an odd but successful marriage of post-punk band with the swagger of 50’s rock n’ roll like if The Shadows or The Lively Ones had played guitar for The Ramones. But what should sound disjointed and incongruous actually gels into an album of supercharged rebellion. Rock n’ roll was the rebellion of the 50’s and according to Hollywood, the birth of the teenager – these two themes are linked intrinsically together in pop culture. So when Justin Young sings on the song Teenage Icon, “I’m no teenage icon, I’m no Frankie Avalon, I’m nobody’s hero,” it acts as embracing the trope of the rebel as much as it rejects it, and it embraces it with a knowing wink and a half smile. It’s a classic story of fake it till you make it, and by god does he make it.
Bad Mood is a stomper of an anthem dripping with the promise of menace and violence should the protagonist of the song have his cage rattled.
I Always Knew shares the same percussive drumming of the Roy Orbison Classic, I Drove All Night, giving the impression of a man riding a horse to the one he loves, or thundering down an American highway in a muscle car or Harley to reunite with his one true love. It’s a song about the revelation of being in love, and going from something casual to it being something big, unwieldy and all too abstract to handle, hence the line “let’s go to bed before you say something real, let’s go to bed before you say how you feel.” But the protagonist knows, he knows it bone deep that he’s irrecoverably in love, and that this girl’s the one for him, and as much as he fights it, he knows it. It’s unclear what wins out, but I like to think that because there’s more lines saying “I know it’s you” than his denial of his feelings that he just admits it. But hey, this hardboiled cynic reserves the right to be an occasional romantic.
Should you listen to The Vaccines? Yes.
Should I go to see them at Sound City? Yes, with bells on.
*So, this is the start of a series of reviews I’m going to do leading up to Liverpool Sound City to give people an idea of who it’s worth listening to and in some small way to help you make an itinerary so you don’t miss that diamond in the rough or end up standing in the crowd listening to a band who manage to redefine mediocre.*
Peace has returned to the land after their excellent 2013 debut, In Love to provide gossamer pop with indie rock hooks – positivity and ego mixed with anxiety and fragility.
Perfect Skin examines the fears and doubts inherent in any relationship - are we good enough? Do we measure up to our lovers standards? He elevates it to obsession and a deep desire for achieving ultimate symbiosis with his lover by becoming her and losing himself in the process (“I need less of me in me and more of you in me”), seeing this as a desirable trade off – trading his old skin for her perfect skin like a snake, sloughing off the old to evolve into something new and better. The song ends with us doubting that the character in the song is actually in a relationship with the woman of his affections or if this is an unrequited obsession when he sings “You're superiority over me makes me worry, I'm not worthy have you seen me?” he’s became so self-deprecating it’s a wonder he hasn’t ceased to exist.
This fragility is continued in Imaginary, which runs with the theme of a relationship that feels too good to be true, at once taking on the proportions of mythic, dream like qualities but at the same time it’s a celebration that anyone can make someone feel like this, and it’s the positive that is truly accentuated here.
World Pleasure evokes Britpop nostalgia with a catchy charisma and narcissism about being too good looking to be sent off to war, with licks very reminiscent of Stone roses and Primal Scream.
Money delves into consumerism and how money itself is a means to an end but ends up transforming us into monsters to get to the means, in a world where “bit coins pay for beatings, and diamonds pay for girls.”
Whilst not as strong as their debut, Happy People is still interesting and infectious enough to warrant a listen, and deftly avoids being that “difficult second album.” I would definitely recommend that you check them out at Sound City, or at least give Peace a chance.
With the promise of commercial space flight and talks of humanity trying to colonise Mars, it seems with some prescience that Public Service Broadcasting have done a concept album concentrating on the human endeavour to reach the stars.
The album begins with the titular track sampling JFK’s historic moon speech, itself a call back to the band’s previous track Everest, as it has the same spirit of exploration and JFK references George Mallory’s words “Why do I want to climb it? Because it is there.” The soaring chorus of the choir in the background lends the speech an almost evangelical tone, linking the idea that the race for space is akin to establishing communication with God and establishing JFK as some kind of technological prophet for a new age.
Gagarin is a disco tinged track laden with funk about the first human cosmonaut launched into space, about how he symbolised the sum total of human endeavour and became a hero of the world and not just Soviet Russia. You can feel the sheer optimism and unifying spirit of the time when the radio announcer on the sample says “Every one of us was with Yuri Gagarin as he orbited the Earth 190 miles above us.”
If The Race for Space and Gagarin are about the bright new hope of space exploration, then Fire in the Cockpit illustrates with grieving violins and the sample of a news report the risk and tragedy of when space exploration goes badly wrong, recalling the tragedy of the air cabin fire in the Apollo 1 mission that claimed the lives of three astronauts due to a lethal design flaw in the vehicle.
In choosing to make a concept album, Public Service Broadcasting has made every song feel unified and made it feel like a more compelling narrative, although I personally feel that in doing so they have lost something in the variety of samples they use in comparison to their debut album Inform, Educate, Entertain. However, I have no hesitation in recommending The Race for Space, as it is still some of the most ambitious and experimental work being performed with sampling since The Avalanches.
P.S: If you’re in Liverpool remember that on 20th March there will be a solar eclipse visible between the hours of 8.26am-10.41 am, so don’t miss this most spectacular and rare event. Just don’t forget to use your eclipse glasses.
“Our juxtapositioned fates
Find our mutual coordinates”
Bjork’s first lines in the opening track Stonemilker linger on every syllable, deliberately deconstructing every word by sounding them out, mirroring the dissolution of her relationship to her partner. She implores her lover to open up, to share to “show me emotional respect,” but all of this is hopeless, “like milking a stone.” She wants to get the relationship back on course but they’re both in emotionally distant places and can no longer occupy the same space. The words in Vulnicura aren’t just sang, they’re bled. You can feel the rawness of emotion permeate the entire album. You get the feeling with every song she’s exorcising her demons whilst also trying to get on her feet and with each step saying “I can get over this mountain, I just need to keep walking.” Emotionally devastating, honest, intimate and her best work since Medulla.
Originally published in the March issue of Kirkby Extra, Issue 318.
It seems we are in a resurgent age of come backs on the music scene – bands from my spent youth like Suede, Ash, The Charlatans and Blur have all emerged from the mists of time to pick up guitar again. So it is with Sleater Kinney who have returned after a decade long hiatus with No Cities to Love. I’m guilty of not listening to Sleater Kinney’s stuff before, but they always sounded like a pretty solid punk band, and by and large that impression hasn’t changed with this new album.
Price Tag is about the drudgery of working a 9-5 in a job you hate and how we all aspire to live lives better than we can afford and are blinded by our consumerist greed and the promise of a life beyond our means.
Bury Our Friends is the obvious single of the bunch and has a great guitar riff and back and forth between both Carin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, both singers singing back and forth through the verses and duetting in the chorus, making the song a real stomper.
I also really enjoyed the last track Fade, as it felt like such a departure from the rest of the album that was reminiscent of Siouxie & the Banshees’ song Cities in Dust with the sparse use of guitar and the stripped down vocals lending the song a feeling of a post-apocalyptic doom.
How refreshing it is to hear a band rip the doors off and then throw a grenade in the metaphorical house they just stepped out of. After all the lifeless banjo-riddled folk-lite crap that’s been polluting the airwaves recently it’s actually good to hear some punk. However, that being said I don’t know if I really connected with the album outside of the singles. Overall I liked the album, but didn’t love it. But it has made me curious enough to listen through the band’s discography. The album's definitely worth a listen, and Sleater kinney are definitely a band worthy of your time.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.