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Thread: Listening Group Week 8: Belle & Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister

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    Listening Group Week 8: Belle & Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister



    Belle & Sebastian were always a band I knew of but didn't actually know. I had heard their biggest song 'The Boy With the Arab Strap' and that was about it. I wasn’t really interested in delving further. They were a band for hipster students, vegans and grown adults who cycle around the West End of Glasgow on bikes with a basket on the front. Then one day about seven or eight years ago, I was googling ‘top indie songs’ and 'Me & the Major' was on one of the lists. I gave it a listen and loved it, checked out the album and that was me converted. This album broadened my horizons and helped me mature as a fan of music. Before Belle & Sebastian (and Arcade Fire), ‘rock’ music to me needed to have an edge, a bit of attitude or at least a distorted guitar. Now I listen to all sorts of poncey (but good) stuff featuring mandolins and oboes and other mad posh instruments.

    This isn’t my favourite album ever, but I have fairly mainstream music tastes, so I wanted to go with something not everyone will have heard. I love this album, there are four or five tracks I absolutely adore and only one or two I don’t really care for. The rest is quite brilliant. I won’t say which songs I like/dislike right now as it’ll be interesting to see if anyone agrees with me without knowing beforehand.

    A bit about the band: I suppose Belle & Sebastian are an indie-pop band from Glasgow, a city I love and where I’ve spent most of my adult life (they mention local places which always gets a cheap pop from me). They’ve chopped and changed line-ups over the years to no real detriment, as the band are essentially a vehicle for the frontman Stuart Murdoch. He was at uni in the late ‘80s when he was struck down with chronic fatigue syndrome which basically fucked him for the next several years. By the time the mid ‘90s rolled around he had recovered and immediately formed Belle & Sebastian to record songs he had written while he was ill. They made two albums in 1996, both in the same studio with the same producer: 'Tigermilk' and 'If You’re Feeling Sinister'. As a result, the records are quite similar both containing themes of youthful awkwardness, loneliness, sexuality, Christianity and all sorts of other stuff; stuff that really struck a chord with me (minus the religious stuff).

    Anyway, I hope you like it. Woop woop.
    Last edited by wardy; August 21st, 2019 at 5:25 PM. Reason: fuck off rosk

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    This is without a doubt my #2 all time favorite guilty pleasure band. Gorgeous music and I strongly associate them with meeting my wife who introduced me to them and who we romp around to their beautiful music like lovers.

    Fuck I love this record and I am listening to the whole thing with coffee RIGHT NOW.

    - - - Updated - - -

    The obvious answer is Rush.

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    I will say that the best part of these weekly threads is listening to full albums again. It's become a lost art really.

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    Not asleep The Beer Monster's Avatar
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    I’ve been strongly considering a bike with a basket, I think it would really suit me. Putting this on now.

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    Good God, this is a really emotional one for me. It’s the first album from this club that I have owned, one that I know front to back and have loved in a certain part of my life.

    A really close friend of my wife and I loved Belle & Sebastian and I bonded with her over their music – I remember one night us all playing poker and we just stayed up playing all their albums drinking until we just fell asleep where we lay, singing along. She was a wonderful soul but unfortunately breast cancer took her away from us a few years ago when she was just 35. She had a few Belle & Sebastian songs at her wedding, and their music evokes such memories of her that it’s been almost impossible to play them in the house ever since. Worked from home today so I played it and it obviously brought a few tears.

    I love Belle & Sebastian, IMO they’re a more generally palatable Smiths (who I fucking adore by the way) and they have such a good whimsical way with lyrics, evoking memories of youth and the struggles you easily forget about when growing older. Even though a lot of these songs are about isolation, it oddly gives a feeling of nostalgia for a time when you were in the pain of youth. I love their gentle yet slightly rousing rhythm in their songs.

    “Seeing Other People” is a fucking brilliant song – and oddly enough, the only track that doesn’t hold up with the rest for me is “Me and the Major”, but almost every classic album has a bad song or two. “Fox in the Snow” made me properly well up.

    “But if you are feeling sinister, go off and see a minister, he’ll try in vain to take away the pain or being a hopeless unbeliever” MWAH.



    “Oh, Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying” is an obvious single, but the whole album works beautifully together. I’m really grateful this has been chosen, as it’s forced me to break through the mental barrier I’ve held up with this band.

    I’d suggest to anyone about to give this a go that maybe on the second try, go have a look over any lyrics you aren’t sure of - they’re beautiful. One of the few bands I’d suggest anyone to close your eyes, and give all focus to what they’re singing and lose yourself in their little stories.
    Last edited by The Rosk; August 21st, 2019 at 2:31 PM.

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    I don’t understand how anyone can see these as a guilty pleasure btw.

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    I'm always watching you.. MMH's Avatar
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    Well these are my favourite band, having everything they have ever done including some very rare items so I will be able to do this one from memory.

    It wont be a very critical review for obvious reasons though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GOLDBERG'S BEST FRIEND View Post
    I will say that the best part of these weekly threads is listening to full albums again. It's become a lost art really.
    100% agreed

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    Intercontinental Champion Melly's Avatar
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    I've heard of them before, will spin this this weekend! (I agree listening to new albums weekly is really fun)

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    I'm always watching you.. MMH's Avatar
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    So as mentioned, Belle & Sebastian are my favourite band, I even have a book dedicated to this very album so it's a good one for me to review.

    B&S still put out some great songs and they have come a long way since this 1996 release. There have been many line up changes, an embracing of celebrity status and more importantly an ability to perform live which they kind of lacked back in the 90's (play songs quietly and go home basically).

    These days their live stuff is a joy to behold, they have so many talented musicians many of which are good at writing songs too. Watching them switch between a massive orchestra of instruments on the fly is great fun. Any band that makes a Cello and a recorder a big part of their sound is noteworthy for me.

    However many people see If You're Feeling Sinister as being peak Belle & Sebastian, and rightfully so. I think they have brought out some better songs since this era (I'm Waking Up To Us, Jonathan David, I'm a Cuckoo, Poor Boy etc etc) but in terms of quality albums from start to finish this is their strongest album, their first album Tigermilk runs it close but they didn't have Sarah Martin and her violin for the first album to round out their sound more.

    This album starts off like a lot of their early albums with a slowish song that builds up over its run time. Stars of Track and Field is always a favourite of mine and not just because it mentions my hometown but its just a great song. We see an insight into Stuart Murdoch's slightly weird, slightly amusing and slightly dark humour with lyrics like "She never needed anyone to get her round the track, But when she's on her back, She had the knowledge, To get her into college". A lot of Murdochs lyrics involve school yard characters and there is a reason for this. When he was coming of age he got struck down ME which basically took away years of his adolescent life and resulted in him writing a bunch of songs at home whilst not being able to go out. Good for us, not so good for him, but you can tell that he harkens back to those days a lot, its probably why he still looks and acts young even though he is now hitting 50 (and keeps himself in great shape by going running...)

    Seeing Other People reminds me of Rosk and I cant quite remember why. Maybe he can fill me in there? Is it your favourite song of theirs? I know we have had a discussion about it before....

    Another song about youth and the awkward age of discovering members of the opposite sex (and indeed the same sex). It's such a uniquely composed song and reminds me of my younger years too (the song not the practicing kissing my elbow etc).

    I like Me and the Major, I think it's a great standalone song, I just don't think its quite fits on the album. It's by far the loudest song on the album and would probably slot in betters on Dear Catastrophe Waitress or a later album. The harmonica playing of Stevie Jackson is so good, actually everything Stevie does is good, such a talented yet lovely bloke.

    Dylan in the Movies is an exceptional piece of music. A contender for best song on the album (sometimes it is for me depending on my mood) I love Stuart David's subtle bass in this and we get a nice Stevie solo.

    Fox in the Snow is classic B&S. A work of pure beauty that somehow happens to be sad and uplifting at the same time. Basically a song saying life can be shit but fuck everyone else and make the most of it. "Second just to being born, Second to dying to, What else could you do?" So simple yet so profound. Love this song and I didn't even mention how good the music is.

    Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying is quite possibly my favourite B&S song. It's a song about the band itself and its struggle with fame and being shy (generally, not all of them were shy) "Nobody writes them like they used to So it may as well be me" is such a great line to show their uneasiness with getting some media attention as is "Now we're photogenic You know, we don't stand a chance" which was written after a photo shoot of the band. It's also the first song an the album to feature Isobel Campbell's voice, she is weirdly quite on this album.

    If You're Feeling Sinister is another classic Belle and Sebastian song and shows why I love Stuart's writing style. He somehow creates fully formed characters in two lines and then bounces characters in and out of the song at random. It's just brilliant. I love how Anthony just gets fucked off after one verse to focus on Hillary instead. The school yard sounds in the background, the way a bit of electronica gets thrown in at the end of the song, it's so good (again)

    If I have one problem with Sinister its the next two songs. Mayfly is OK but a pretty generic Belle and Sebastian song. It's nice with some Campbell Harmonizing and Stevie Jackson playing some really nice guitar pieces. I have just never felt much for it.

    Next up is The Boy Done Wrong Again which is one of my least favourite B&S songs. (Certainly the least favourite of the none Stuart David songs) Again it's a beautiful song but I find it a bit dull. It does have one of their best lyrics though in "All I wanted was to sing the saddest songs, If somebody sings along I will be happy now" It's one of their only songs I don't have on my Ipod. It's still good don't get me wrong, but I can never be bothered with it.

    Ok I have changed my mind again, Judy and the Dream of Horses is the best song on the album and my favourite of theirs. Well maybe, anyway.

    Such a good song to end an album (and gig) on. Starts of nice and slow, very mellow, then you get a bit of recorder added to the song and it's moving along nicely. Then you get Mick Cook's trumpet, I love Mick Cook's trumpet (oo er..) he made so many B&S songs epic and this is definitely one of them.

    If anyone likes this definitely give a listen to some more of their stuff, especially Tigermilk and The Boy With The Arab Strap, the best trio of albums ever for me.

    Best band ever. Nice choice Wardy.

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    First thoughts.

    Opening song is off putting to me. Harmonies almost made me turn it off. Glad I didn't because the rest is quite good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MMH View Post
    Seeing Other People reminds me of Rosk and I cant quite remember why. Maybe he can fill me in there? Is it your favourite song of theirs? I know we have had a discussion about it before....
    .
    I've got no idea chap. But I absolutely love it. Possibly one of, if not my favourite song of theirs for sure.

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    Never listened to them before. I’m pumped.

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    Fully expected this to be @MMH's selection

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    I've heard of them, possibly from people on here but haven't ever heard them.

    First impression is that this is kind of inoffensive nothing music that you hear in a supermarket or near imperceptible background music at a cafe or something. It's not bad, it's just kind of meh.
    Vocally, it does nothing for me. They're almost trying to talk in tune than actually singing.


    Definitely not my cup of tea.

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    Donde esta la biblioteca Pablo Diablo's Avatar
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    So I've given this a couple listens. I think their music is very clean and I really enjoyed it. The music never really made me think that I was just listening to a repeat of an earlier song. I can definitely see how they are loved by so many of you and I will listen to more of their music for sure. There is just one thing that keeps them and the album from going into pure greatness for me, the singing.

    I appreciate how clear the singing is, one of the first albums we've had where I haven't had to go to the lyrics to be able to understand the majority of what was being said. But I think it's because the lead's voice is...unoffensive. That's the best way I can describe it. Looking above at Grim's comment "trying to talk in tune than actually singing" is a good description. Unlike Grim I do find the music better than just background music and I think that's why the singing lets the album down a bit. If we were to have this type of singing on last weeks EPs I wouldn't mind it as much because I think it would fit better, I just think the music deserves more "singing".

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    Intercontinental Champion Melly's Avatar
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    I don't like their singing voices. I admit I felt like all their songs blended together. But the music is chill, I can hear this being played at a beach party or a coffee house. A few stood out: Like Dylan In The Movies, The Fox In The Snow, Me And The Major.

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    I love this album. It's nothing new to me, but it's been a few years since I've listened. The majority of it was well remembered, but there were a couple of tracks that I would have forgotten to list if I were trying to name the tracks. All in all it's the best of the bunch so far, but that's a bit biased.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Get me away from here I'm dying is a top track for any band. I've always thought B&S were criminally underrated.

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    Not asleep The Beer Monster's Avatar
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    I’m struggling to review this weeks choice.
    I’ll give a random thought instead:
    Most of the tracks could be theme tunes to mid to late 90’s Andrew Lincoln TV shows, make of that what you will.

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    I'm always watching you.. MMH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Beer Monster View Post
    I’m struggling to review this weeks choice.
    I’ll give a random thought instead:
    Most of the tracks could be theme tunes to mid to late 90’s Andrew Lincoln TV shows, make of that what you will.
    Well they did do that with Teachers....

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    Not asleep The Beer Monster's Avatar
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    Yes, but think of all those other shows he could of done, Accountants, Dentists, That Life.

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    Once again a band I am not overly familiar with and again a album I really enjoyed and would listen to again. I particulary enjoyed The stars of track and field, Dylan in the movies, Get me away from here I'm dying, If your sinister and The boy done wrong again.

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    you either die a hero... Morrison's Avatar
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    so belle and sebastian is another band i first heard about thanks to the early 2000's rajah music forum crew. i think it might have been partly hack, i wanna say i steal cable was also a fan, and i have to imagine MMH was probably the biggest influence. first album i listened to was the boy with the arab strap, and 'it could have been a brilliant career' hooked me in. obviously their discography is chock full of whimsy, but this is a particularly strong one as far as first songs go. this upbeat instrumentation and nick drake-esque lilting vocals singing about young people having stroke's was totally out of left field to me; was not expecting that. there's a great mix of tones and feelings on that album, especially with the use of additional and alternate lead vocalists, which breaks up the album in a way that all the songs don't sound the same. stevie jackson is great on his two tracks, but i found that i love the way this music sounds with a female on lead vocals, so isobel campbell getting some work on it really helped. i love her work with mark lanegan a lot.

    with that said, if you're feeling sinister feels like a step back, at least in what i'm wanting out of the band, which makes sense since i got into their second album first. so maybe that backwards introduction taints my opinion on IYFS, despite it being a very good album. it feels less textured and open, and just seems like it's missing something infectious. TBWTAS has more personality, for my taste, which works very well for a lot of the preciousness of the sound and writing. my biggest gripe with the smiths when i've listened to them is this odd perceived disconnect between morrissey's vocals and the music the band is playing, and with stuart murdoch's unique vocals, i think belle and sebastian blend those two things perfectly, which is impressive.

    'seeing other people,' 'me and the major,' 'get me away from here, i'm dying' and 'if you're feeling sinister' are the standout tracks, for me. they each provide a bit of something different from the rest of the album, and harness and focus the fancifulness of both the arrangements, vocals and song-writing. so yeah, not my favorite record of theirs, but it was nice to revisit it.

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