I can remember quite vividly sitting in my car and listening to the radio when something magical happened. I was tuned in to KURE-Iowa State University’s college station, when a dizzying disco jam made its way into my ears. I was elated by the sounds hitting me from the front and back-the 2003 Hyundai Sonata GLS had a more than adequate stock stereo system, and I was putting it to the test as I continued raising the volume higher and higher. It was late at night, so there wasn’t a DJ running the show, and robo-DJ never gave the name of the artist after a tune. I had to wait til I got home to Google what I just heard. Turns out it was “Your Cover’s Blown” by Belle And Sebastian. And that was the last time Stuart Murdoch and company really surprised me.
I was a fan of If You’re Feeling Sinister and Dear Catastrophe Waitress already, but “Your Cover’s Blown” made me think these Glaswegians were going to turn a corner and become one of THE bands of the decade (up there with The Strokes, The White Stripes, and all the other “The” groups). Instead they followed up the single with The Life Pursuit-a fine record in my opinion, but one that never comes close to the euphoria of that magical song that appears on their Books EP.
Then we got Belle And Sebastian Write About Love, a good record to listen to when you don’t need to pay attention to it. Gimmick guests Norah Jones and actress Carey Mulligan just made matters worse, and I started to wonder if I would even care if one of my favorite groups had another record in them. Back in September they released “The Party Line,” and all of a sudden I was optimistic again.
Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance has been streaming for the past week, so by now you’ve probably heard it at least once. I’ve given it a few spins, and I have to say it’s a pretty uneven album. I like it, and there are a couple of songs that I think are really quite good even held up against some of their best work. But it does feel very uneven. Enough so that I wonder if Murdoch wasn’t still focused on his directorial debut God Help The Girl while the band was in Atlanta recording the record. Some of the blame could also lay at the feet of producer Ben H. Allen. This is the first B&S record produced by Allen, and maybe they were making some compromises along the way to keep things civil.
Take, for example, “Enter Sylvia Plath.” It’s got this great new wave-y dance beat that mixes LCD Soundsystem and A Flock Of Seagulls. On its own, it’s great. But then it’s followed by a melancholy ballad called “The Everlasting Muse.” A track that would fit better on a Sade album (well, until a couple minutes in when it turns into an old-style step dancing song and then tries its hand at adding a “Losing My Religion” mando). The stark contrast of the two songs completely ruins the flow of the album.
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. If you’re a fan of Murdoch’s voice it’s on full display here. On “Today (This Army’s For Peace),” he puts on a dreamy air, his dulcet tones caressing your ears and fills your headspace with a warm, cozy feeling.
There are other bright spots here as well, but nothing that makes me shake with excitement. Essentially, B&S have figured out their formula (about a decade ago) and their happy to keep making the same music. I can’t argue with that. I mean, The National have been doing the same thing and they just keep gaining popularity. If you’re a fan of this group, you’re gonna listen to this album and more than likely buy it. Definitely not one I would recommend starting with if you’re just getting into the band.