It was about three months ago that Scottish, indie-pop royalty Belle and Sebastian released the single, “The Party Line” giving listeners their first taste of what to expect on their new album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.
Immediately evident was the dancey, disco-funk vibe that the single exuded, not necessarily a staple of Belle and Sebastian’s lengthy catalog. Many attributed this new sound to the fact that the band was working with producer Ben H. Allen III, who has produced albums for bands Bombay Bicycle Club, Animal Collective and Matt and Kim, all of which are much more electronically driven than your typical Belle and Sebastian record.
This, among other things, is part of the reason that singles can be frustrating. Critics and fans alike are quick to project a drastic shift in the content of an entire album based off a single song that the artists may or may not have even chosen. Belle and Sebastian’s new album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance does have its moments of funk and even disco themes, but at its heart it is very much a Belle and Sebastian record.
Aside from the undeniably catch “The Party Line”, “Enter Sylvia Plath” is the most disco-driven track on the album. Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin harmonize wonderfully over a myriad of synthesizers, and though not the most poetic song on Peacetime, Murdoch keeps the lyrics away from the droll predictability that categorizes most “dance” tracks.
Despite this stylistic change, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance will still satisfy the die-hard Belle and Sebastian fans who have waited four long years for this album. The second track, “Allie”, is an introduction to the character who Murdoch has stated is the main subject of the storytelling songs on the album. As always, Murdoch is able to create what seems like an entire character study within what amounts to six or seven songs.
“Ever had a little faith” is the most throwback song off the record, sounding like quintessential 90’s Belle and Sebastian. The song effortlessly combines a string section, light, acoustic guitar, and the ever-so-delicate vocals of Murdoch, with a hint of harmonization from Martin. There exists, in my opinion, no voice in pop history that matches so naturally with airy, upbeat guitar strumming than that of Murdoch, and thankfully he seems to enjoy implementing this for at least a few songs, no matter how funky the album is as a whole.
While there is both the dance and the more traditional Belle and Sebastian within Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, there is also a few tracks, namely “The Everlasting Muse” that fit into neither box comfortably. The first half of the song is not particularly noteworthy, with a baseline and basic drum pattern at its spine. It is not until nearly two minutes in, that the song evolves into a Beirut-esque polka song, equipped with a full sting and horn section, making it perhaps the band’s most musically intricate and layered song to date.
Belle and Sebastian have nothing to prove. Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, their ninth studio album, is not one trying to legitimize their place in the pop world, they have earned that through a consistency that rivals the greatest of all time. What this album does is shows that they are far from finished, are still evolving, and will continue to grace listeners for years to come.