Monday, May 11, 2009

List of the Day: Top, I Dunno, Let's Say ... 17 ... Belle and Sebastian Songs

Far be it from me to criticize anything about High Fidelity, either the movie (which is probably in my top three of all-time) or the book (which has better and more obscure music references). However, there is one thing.


One depressing Monday morning, Dick puts a tape on at the record shop. Rob asks what it is, and Dick replies, "The new Belle and Sebastian." They resume moping.

Seconds later, Barry bursts in, starts ranting against "This sad bastard music," puts on Katrina and the Waves, and starts dancing around.

And, with that one scene, Belle and Sebastian became "sad bastard music" to pretty much everyone I went to college with, mopey music to be avoided at all costs.

Thing is, though, a very small portion of their music could really be classified as sad. It's fragile, to be sure, half-whispered stories about effeminate, sexually frustrated private school kids with weird fetishes. But, above all, it's always struck me as uplifting, bouncy, with lofty harmonies and occasional horn parts. This is what Scotland sounds like to me.

Anyway, I've been listening to a lot of B&S while I've been studying (them and Drive By Truckers, who I'll probably post about soon), so I figured it was time for a playlist. Here's a hastily-thrown-together Top 17 List.

1) If She Wants Me

Dear Catastrophe Waitress is one of my absolute favorite albums, though, if you're looking for hipster cred, you should probably name-check Tigermilk or If You're Feeling Sinister. It's all jangly guitars and the transition between C#m and A. And this song is most representative of that feeling. So here it is at #1.

2) She's Losing It

A simple acoustic song apparently about how lesbianism can save you from insanity. At least that's what I get out of it.

3) Electronic Renaissance

This one should probably be at #1 on the list, but it's just so un-B&S-like that I couldn't lead off with it. A futuristic sound effects montage leads into a cold, disembodied vocal about the glories of designer drugs. "You go disco and I'll go Funkadelic, man, it's the way to go."

4) The Boy With the Arab Strap

These are apparently the things you think about on the bus ride after you get out of prison. "We all know you're soft cuz we've all seen you dancing / We all know you're hard cuz we've all seen you drinking from noon until noon again."

5) Lazy Line Painter Jane

I know that saying a song sounds "loud" is as nonsensical as saying that beer tastes "cold," but this is definitely B&S's most bombastic track. It's the only song of theirs that actively wants the volume turned up.

6) Your Cover's Blown

British music magazine NME called this "the indie 'Bohemian Rhapsody' ... Spy vs. Spy in the discoteque." I would agree with all of that.

7) Seeing Other People

"You're kissing your elbow, you're kissing your reflection / And you can't understand why all the other boys are going for the new, tall, elegant rich kids." I had a comment to add to that quote, but it took me five minutes to double-check it to make sure I was using the right form of you're/your each time, so I'm just gonna move on.

8) I'm A Cuckoo

Rhyming "Tokyo" with "Thin Lizzy-OH!" might be kind of a stretch, but I think it works.

9) Wrapped Up in Books

Apparently what you get when you cross emo kids with illegal street racing. Now that's a Fast and Furious sequel I could get behind.

10) Marx and Engels

Typical story: boy meets girl in a laundromat, girl speaks limited English, boy hits on girl, girl rejects him to spend more time reading the Communist Manifesto.

11) Stay Loose

Takes a while to hit its stride, but the second half is worth the wait. "Happiness is not for keeping / Happiness is not my goal."

12) Dress Up in You

A kind of reversal-of-fortunes song where the singer in the band becomes the loser by the end, and the pronouns get really confusing by the end. I think I need a flow chart of the sexual orientations of the people in this song.

13) Expectations

Girl makes life-sized models of the Velvet Underground, gets stabbed with a fork, tells her secrets to a fat girl with a lisp, etc. Also, there's an excellent trumpet part.

14) If You're Feeling Sinster

Thesis: Religion is okay, but not as good as masturbation. This was the first B&S song I ever heard. I wasn't ready for it.

15) The Stars of Track and Field

As it turns out ... beautiful people.

16) Sukie in the Graveyard

The Life Pursuit was an incredibly hit-and-miss album, with the band trying out a high-energy, Moog-heavy feel that didn't always work. It works here, though. Also, the art school in question was apparently in San Francisco. Or maybe Stuart just tells every audience that.

17) Piazza, New York Catcher

"San Francisco's calling us, the Giants and Mets will play / Piazza, New York Catcher, are you straight or are you gay?" There is (and I am 100% sure of this) no other band that could pull off that lyric. Also includes a Tenderloin reference and a terrible Willie Mays pun.

1 comment:

  1. Ferrario speaks:

    I was always partial to "For The Price of a Cup of Tea" myself -- really bucks the trend of B&S being "sad bastard music." I like your pick of "Your Cover Is Blown" too -- I'm not ready to compare it to "Bohemian Rhapsody", but I think it's easily B&S's most musically complex song, although admittedly my knowledge of them isn't particularly deep.