Belle and Sebastian is an indie pop/baroque pop band from Glasgow. Depending on what you call a “proper album”, they’ve released either six or eight proper records since their official inception in 1996. My opinion is that Tigermilk(1996) shouldn’t be counted as a “proper album”. Nor should Storytelling (2000), the “soundtrack” to the Todd Solondz film of the same name. Although the band had released Tigermilk in early 1996 as a vocational school class project of Stuart Murdoch, there were only a handful of copies made. It was later re-issued in 1999, but for some reason, I’ve always refused to call it a proper album.
The band really burst onto the scene later in 1996 with their album If You’re Feeling Sinister, which was met with universal glowing praise. It ended up on a lot of “best records of the decade” lists and “best records of the quarter-century” lists. I don’t think any reviewer gave it less than a 9.5.
I wasn’t among the first on board with Belle and Sebastian. Once I was finally introduced to If You’re Feeling Sinister back in 1997, I got fully on board in a hurry. I liked their next record, while most people thought that it was mediocre at best. I gobbled up all of their records for a while. I never saw them live, but I was a big fan. I even had two cats whose middle names were “Belle” and “Sebastian” respectively.
Founding member and bassist Stuart David left the band in 2000 to start the band Looper, and Belle and Sebastian suffered for it. The really big blow came in 2002, when cellist/percussionist/backing vocalist Isobel Campbell left the band to pursue solo interests and a series of albums with former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan. She unceremoniously quit the band during the middle of a North American tour. The awesomeness of Belle and Sebastian diminished multifold on her departure. It’s a common thing for people to classify their catalog as “with Isobel” and “post-Isobel”. Their style changed a bit, but even without the style change, I think they’re inferior without her.
I never took Storytelling seriously. I thought that Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003) was a disaster. I’ve never listened to The Life Pursuit (2006). I got a copy of their 2010 album Belle & Sebastian Write About Love, and I absolutely hate it.
For what it’s worth, they’ve been called “Belle & Sebastian” (with the ampersand) since at least 1997, but I still spell it out.
I have some special memories associated with If You’re Feeling Sinister. It is and always has been my favorite Belle and Sebastian record. As much as I love the crowd-pleasing songs like “The Stars of Track and Field”, “Seeing Other People” and “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”, tonight’s song is my favorite. Again, I have some special memories associated with this song.
“The Fox in The Snow” by Belle and Sebastian
This song is criminally underrated, even amongst Belle and Sebastian fans. I remember having many many heated debates with a friend about how underrated this song is. That friend is way more into Belle and Sebastian than I ever was, and he would just roll his eyes and mock my adoration of “The Fox in The Snow”. I would always point to the fragility of the piano at the beginning. I would always say that if you tried hard enough, you could hear the pads on the hammers striking the strings. I’m not sure if I really believed that or not, but that’s what I would always say. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that my friend actually loved the song, but he enjoyed the debate as much as I did.
I really do love that piano bit at the beginning, though. And the acoustic guitar that comes in shortly thereafter. You’ve got to really pay attention to notice the cello, but the violin stands out as another highlight of the song. Isobel’s backing vocals are hardly noticeable until 1:46, with the “At least not anymore” harmony. I don’t know why, exactly, but that always stands out as another highlight for me.
Soon after that, the vibraphone comes in. Honestly, that’s really all that needs to be said. There’s a vibraphone bit!
Everybody knows that I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for string arrangements and vibraphone in pop songs, so it’s a given that I’m all apey for this song. The fact that Isobel actually got to sing a little bit is just the gravy.
It doesn’t matter to me whether the song is about seizing a moment, or about the folly and innocence of youth, or about prostitution, or anything else. I love it for the reasons that I’ve listed, and many more.
You can buy If You’re Feeling Sinister from the amazon store here.