Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Belle and Sebastian

  • If You're Feeling Sinister [The Enclave, 1997] A-
  • The Boy With the Arab Strap [Matador, 1998] A-
  • Tigermilk [Matador, 1999] A-
  • Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant [Jeepster, 2000] *
  • The Life Pursuit [Matador, 2006] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

If You're Feeling Sinister [The Enclave, 1997]
Sly guys, subtler gals. Straight out the stereo, they didn't have enough oomph to open my clip drawer--they go for dim where corporate pop favors hot, their lo-fi more Exile on Main Street than Sebadoh. So I assumed they were two or three twee public-school snobs just smart enough to mock their own privilege, with stray art-buddies chipping in. In fact it appears (although they are coy about it) that they comprise seven popwise Scots in the same general record-collector tradition as Orange Juice, Teenage Fanclub, and Bis, none of whom sound like Belle and Sebastian or each other. And while younger folks debate the intellectual content of Stuart Murdoch's mild-mannered cynicism, for me his clever affect is there to test the strength of his third-power catchiness. You don't just recognize these tunes. You don't just hum snatches in tranquility. You sing along, irresistibly, sometimes with verse and chorus both. Just be glad Murdoch is into bemused sex rather than the glories of E, or attacks on the culture industry. A-

The Boy With the Arab Strap [Matador, 1998]
Rather than singing the anxieties of suspended postadolescence in lyrics that dissolve upon contact with the mind, Stuart Murdoch pins his themes down one scenario at a time. Rather than tracing his uncertainties in music that wanders hill and dale, he erects song structures and rounds their corners with wispy vocals. With his little gang helping him, the music comes out beautiful and fragile. When their childhood ends, as it must, they'll be happier than they are now--or else much sadder. A-

Tigermilk [Matador, 1999]
It's their 1996 U.K. debut, done cheap back when school was the main thing they knew. So they made up songs idealizing the yearnings of every sexually confused young person who ever sat alone in a lunchroom humming a Chills song. Soaring wistfully above a misery recollected from something like last week, Stuart Murdoch clearly believes these kids are superior beings. But he's so nonconfrontational in his elitism that only a jock wouldn't root for them. A-

Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant [Jeepster, 2000]
Palette expanded, pigment thinned ("Women's Realm," "The Model"). *

The Life Pursuit [Matador, 2006]
Whilst pursuing life, always remember: Their weedy wimpery was more original, and elegant, than their pop mastery ("The Blues Are Still Blue," "Funny Little Frog"). *