Few bands embody the rise of independent music over the last decade better than Belle & Sebastian. This Scottish seven-piece began their career as the final project of front man Stuart Murdoch’s college music class in 1996. Since then, Belle & Sebastian have been hailed as the triumphant return of classic British pop, with each successive album receiving more praise then the last. This week, they are returning from a four-year break with a new record, Write About Love. The record is poised to become an instant classic for longtime fans, and is sure to turn the heads of a few new ones as well.
Write About Love explores Belle & Sebastian’s quintessential sounds, and is more an album about textures rather than melodies or catchy choruses. The music shimmers with the sunny British Invasion gleam of the ‘60s, but has a darker, more contemplative core. The jangly drums and twangy, open guitar work on tracks like “Write About Love” show a healthy early Beatles influence, a vibe that’s further enhanced by a neat little organ solo. “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” which features Norah Jones crooning in her smoky baritone over some lush jazz, is another magnificent track.
At times, the record draws on the band’s dream-pop roots. Tracks like “Read the Blessed Pages” and “The Ghost of Rockschool” turn the volume down to explore glowing vocal and instrumental textures. But when the band decides to lay down straighforward pop songs instead of exploring their more abstract side, the result is insatiably nostalgic. Belle & Sebastian aren’t afraid to embrace the undeniable fun of upbeat, soulful rock tunes, and they do so better than just about any other band putting records out today.
Write About Love is a greatly balanced album with a diverse mix of everything from night-drive ballads to flat-out sing-along Britpop hits, all of which fit together perfectly.
It’s been a long time since we’ve heard anything new from Belle & Sebastian, and all of that time has raised expectatations to staggering heights. With Write About Love, the band proves that is up to the challenge, crafting an album that is simultaneously familiar and refreshing. It’s a standout among their catalogue, and it’s the kind of album that reminds us why we fell for Bell & Sebastian in the first place.
Voice’s Choices: “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” “Write About Love”