Album Review: Belle and Sebastian – How to Solve Our Human Problems (Part 1) EP

By on Monday, 11th December 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Belle and Sebastian How to Solve Our Human Problems Part 1 album coverTwo decades after forming, Glaswegian band Belle and Sebastian are still at it, and for their latest release, they’ve decided to turn things on its head. I should probably be referring not to release but to releases, plural. In their earliest years, Belle and Sebastian knocked out albums at a feverish pace: ‘Tigermilk’ and ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ were recorded and released in less than a year. While Stuart Murdoch says, “My capacity to be delighted by pop music has not waned”, his outlook on the music business has changed. This has led to their decision to release not an album in a traditional format but three EPs under the umbrella ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems’, each of them to be bolstered by a lead single.

In part 1 of the trilogy, ‘We Were Beautiful’ is that single, an upbeat number that continues the Scottish’s group trajectory towards synth-driven tuneage evidenced in ‘The Party Line’ from 2015’s ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’. In his semi-sung, semi-spoken words, Murdoch paints a picture of optimism and resilience despite obstacles, much needed in these downtrodden times: “I see you the way you are, I see you the scar… we were beautiful before this all went down”. ‘The Girl Doesn’t Get It’ begins simply and trite enough, with Murdoch’s pronouncement that women have been deceived by “a myth that they’re selling / that there’s one perfect fella”. The song quickly changes to a political direction, into discussion of state of fear and terror we’ve been pulled into in this uncertain world and, I guess for lack of a better parallel descriptor, Britain’s version of Make America Great Again. All the while, a bouncy, poppy, peppy synth-led rhythm reminiscent of OMD confounds.

But maybe that’s the point, to keep you off balance, to create a feeling of unease? ‘Dew Sweet Lee’, a near cloying duet between Murdoch and Stevie Jackson, opens this EP, sounding nothing like the two songs I just described. In it, Murdoch recalls a woman he once loved. But was it a fabulous love affair, or was it all in his mind and he daydreamed up the whole thing? It’s up to the listener to decide. Moving into even slower territory, ‘Fickle Season’ shines gently like stars in a night sky. A repeated tap in the backdrop sounds like the clicking of a clock or a metronome, which seems appropriate here. “Come the season, find a reason / home is anywhere you find me”, sings Sarah Martin, a honeyed yearning in her voice.

The five-track EP ends with an instrumental, ‘Everything is Now’. Sounding like a wonky Broken Bells with flute and like an attempt by a pop band who don’t really know how to jam, you’re left scratching your head after its 5 and a half minute conclusion. EPs are shorter than albums, so they’re usually easier to string together by a common theme, something that doesn’t seem to be obvious here. Maybe the other two EPs that follow will have better guidance towards the titular ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems’? Let’s hope so.

7/10

The ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems (Part 1) EP, the first of three from Belle and Sebastian, is out now on Matador Records. The Scottish group will be touring their newest music in Europe in February, the UK and Ireland in March and will even pop over to Australia in May; all their touring information current as of now is on their Facebook here. For our past coverage on Belle and Sebastian here on TGTF, come through.

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