This means my hopes for this, a bit forced for a band with this reputation, 3 EP release were not very high. But, hey, I'm writing. Perhaps that the recording on the brink, i.e. in the band's hometown with no producer that led to an exit of two members the last time, did Belle & Sebastian some good?
I am writing on the release of Part 1, although part 2 is out already. One step at a time. The intention is to add a part at the time. Time will tell if I get so far. The intention is there.
How To Solve Our Human Problems (Part 1)
Listening to 'Sweet Dew Lee' I had nearly made up my mind and packed up my ears straight away. Not again?! The clicking optons on Spotify saves a person from making too fast decisions. The disco beat of 'We Were Beautiful' is not something I wait for, but like Arcade Fire last year, something beautiful can grow from it. The singing of Stuart Murdoch gives the atmosphere a second change and draws me in. Something that is only heightened by the lead singing of Sarah Martin in the third song. The mood changes again all over. We are in France in the mid 60s with Françoise Hardy and colleagues. The mood so soft and sweet, flute and all.
Belle and Sebastian keeps changing the mood like it is mandatory. From serious to lightheaded pop music and back to disco rhythms with a light bouncing and sounding organ. Just like the lead vocals change. There is a mood and song for all and all days, moods and seasons. While I'm bemused by so much exuberance from a band that I would not always describe as the happiest in the universe, I notice that I like the choices it has made for Part 1.
Of course that typical Belle & Sebastian feeling that a glass can never be half full is all over the album and I'm happy it is. It is the mix between these two extremes that come off so well in the band's best songs in the past. Like they do in How To Solve Our Human Problems (Part 1). By the song I am endearing myself more to this EP.
Last summer I was so surprised by 'Everything Now', Arcade Fire's last album, that was attacked over the months almost viciously by reporters. Surprised in a very positive way. Perhaps not coincidentally the final song on this EP has, nearly, the same title: 'Everything Is Now'. It seems the explanatory song for what is going on here. "Everything is now. Everything is different", the band sings. Again a totally and more moody as well as much slower song than three out of four that came before. A declaration of intent for this set of EPs? That time will tell.
What has happened after a few listen sessions is that opening song 'Sweet Dew Lee' has fallen into place as well as a part of a fairly brilliant set of five songs. It seems I can't wait to take on part 2 and 3 soon.
How To Solve Our Human Problems (Part 2)
Belle & Sebastian starting a song a bit like the first big hit of U.S. punk band The Offspring, ‘Self Esteem’? Okay, only a little, but the idea is put into my head. ‘Show Me The Sun’ goes off in a totally different direction. Of course it does. Yet the song is an up tempo, poppy, almost rock song. The ideal follow up to where EP 1 ended. The upbeat singing, male – female, the fiery 60s sounding guitar solo, it makes for a perfect beginning.
How To Solve Our Human Problems is into its second iteration of three. I am playing it now for about two weeks and certainly getting pleasantly used to it. ‘The Same Star’ is sung by Sarah Martin. This alteration between front singers is one of the strong points of Belle & Sebastian. She is able to give the songs the same kind of melancholy as bandleader Stuart Murdoch is able to put into the songs he sings. The little horn stuff in the middle makes for vintage Belle & Sebastian. The way this song is almost attacked by the band, makes it of a superior kind of dreaminess. The guitar again really goes for it in the solo, augmented by the trumpet that follows it.
The mellowness that follows ‘The Same Star’ changes the mood in a correct and pleasant way. ‘I’ll Be Your Pilot’ takes the mood down with an acoustic guitar and bongos. But just like in the busier songs EP 2 started out with, ‘I’ll Be Your Pilot’ shows that Belle & Sebastian has a fine ear for detail. The delicate playing and singing, the hobo (?) solo, the harmonies are all intricate and so finely played.
Eight songs into the three Eps I am under the impression that Belle & Sebastian is totally back at the level where it was when I got to know the band in the mid-00s. That fine balance seems to be back that I found lacking on the bands last efforts (the ones I listened to that is).
In ‘Cornflakes’ the band again goes back to the 60s. This is a somewhat strange mix of soul, Dusty Springfield, The Moody Blues anno ‘Go Now’ and The Carpenters, including some ‘Star Trek’ title songs in the solo. ‘Cornflakes’ is a busy song, a bit erratic, that I have a hard time digesting. Different it is though. With enough details to discover for those who like this sort of song.
‘A Plague On Other Boys’ puts the mood down once again. A soft version of a Scott Walker song. It has all the bombast without just that. Without any problem I can imagine all the Walker wall of sound music underneath the soft singing of Stuart Murdoch. Something like ‘Jackie’. Strange, but true. In the meantime I am enjoying myself here. The slow moving song has all these little details to discover in the singing and the arrangement of the song. There is a lot going on here, while the mix is spacious, leaving room enough for all the instruments to excel.
Four out of five is a great score. I am already looking forward to Part 3, to be released soon. It seems this is likely to be continued.
Part 3 is upon us and the only conclusion possible is, Belle & Sebastian continue its high level of playing, composing, singing and creating the exactly right mood for its songs. The band keeps that fine balance between the lightness of life and the melancholy of living. Like the four expressions on the sleeve right next here depict perfectly.
The element of disco can be heard in some of the songs, again. Again Arcade Fire springs to mind (and let me state here that I still think 'Everything Now' is a fine album), without overdoing it one inch. Belle & Sebastian have a lighter touch or when things get more exuberant, like in 'Too Many Tears', the melancholy is never far away and neither is that lightness. The high sounding guitars, the horns that perk up the mood and stoke the fire within the song.
The five songs in Part 3 manage to be different and be coherent as a whole. 'Poor Boy' reminds me of Franz Ferdinand, because of the title on its last album, 'Lazy Boy'. Sarah Martin takes the lead again and her voice comes by a few times in Part 3. The 60s pastiche that ends this trilogy is another showcase by her. 'Best Friend' is a tip of the hat to The Supremes, The Shangri-Las, etc. Her voice may be too old for this kind of song; and the topic. The song as a whole works and is a great ending to this album cut in three. I have no doubt it will get into this home in one form or other.
Cutting it in three made me look out for the next in line, because of what I had heard before. Belle & Sebastian are a long way from the soft voiced songs on 'Tigermilk'. In essence that band is still there. Over it all is laid a more mature version. One that can produce a sophisticated song like 'Everything Is Now (Part 2). The voice is the same, the band and the music is just so much better. I may have missed out on a few albums. I got back into Belle & Sebastian at exactly the right moment. How To Solve Our Human Problems is a question that may not have been answered explicitly, implicitly this album answered a large chunk of it. Beautiful music is a part of the solution to a better lived and enjoyed life. Thank you, Belle & Sebastian.
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