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Belle and Sebastian blends styles with success

Molly Griffin | Thursday, February 23, 2006

Few bands have die-hard fans like Belle and Sebastian – surprising considering the quaint, quiet nature of their music. Something about their delicate, fanciful music inspires fans, and “The Life Pursuit,” while somewhat different from their previous releases, will do no less.

Belle and Sebastian were formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1996. The band is primarily the brainchild of lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist Stuart Murdoch. Its other members include vocalist/guitarist Stevie Jackson, keyboardist Chris Geddes, drummer Richard Colburn, vocalist/violinist Sarah Martin, trumpeter/bassist Mick Cook and guitarist/bassist Bobby Kildea.

The band’s name is taken from a French book, “Belle et Sebastien,” about a boy (Sebastien) and his dog (Belle). The group has released seven studio albums in its 10-year history, along with a variety of live albums and compilations.

“The Life Pursuit,” like most of Belle and Sebastian’s previous efforts, is an upbeat, catchy and utterly addictive blend of folky ballads, witty rhymes and a little bit of ’60s pop thrown in.

Songs like “For the Price of a Cup of Tea” sound like vintage Belle and Sebastian, but many of the other songs on the album branch out into slightly new musical territory without losing much of the sound that has made them a long-term success.

Belle and Sebastian often incorporate a diverse range of sounds into their music, and “The Life Pursuit” is no different. What makes this album different is the addition of some elements that sound a little more ’70s glam rock than what previous efforts have exhibited. Examples of this occur in “White Collar Boy,” which has a backbeat similar to Norman Greenbaum’s hit “Spirit in the Sky” and “The Blues are Still Blue,” which poses distinct elements of the 1970s glam-band T. Rex.

Many of the other songs on the album sound reminiscent of other genres, but Belle and Sebastian manages to put its own unique spin on the pieces. “Funny Little Frog” blends a surprising Motown soul element into its feel, while the surprisingly funky “Sukie in the Graveyard” incorporates organ, tambourine and a wailing guitar solo. The bass-line in “Song for Sunshine” transforms into a soaring chorus, and Act of the Apostle, Pt. 2″ has a bit of country twang at its heart.

The slower, languid “Dress Up In You” is different from the generally up-tempo feel of the whole album, but its gently moving rhythm manages to make it seem right at home.

The album’s best offerings are the jazzy “White Collar Boy,” the funky “The Blues are Still Blue,” the soulful “Funny Little Frog” and the vintage Belle and Sebastian appeal of “For the Price of a Cup of Tea.” The songs as a whole are strong, and skipping past any is dependant on mood more than quality.

While “The Life Pursuit” has a slightly different sound than the band’s previous efforts, it still offers the kind of chipper, heartfelt music fans have come to expect. The band manages to update their sound without betraying it. “The Life Pursuit” offers great songs with a decidedly upbeat flavor, which makes it a satisfying record overall.