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Belle & Sebastian find new story in ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’

| Thursday, September 19, 2019

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

In its early heyday, Scottish pop band Belle & Sebastian established its image by telling the stories of others. The group was named not for its members, but rather for the couple in a short story by frontman Stuart Murdoch — characters who were, correspondingly, named for a boy and a dog from a French television show. The band’s initial album covers feature friends, not members of the band. Belle & Sebastian’s early songs often work towards introspection through the study of outside characters. On “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” off the band’s 1996 sophomore album, Murdoch sings, “Oh I’ll settle down with some old story / About a boy who’s just like me / Thought there was love in everything and everyone / You’re so naive!”

Some two-odd decades later, Murdoch and company are settling down with a new story — the upcoming film adaptation of Jeff Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel “Days of the Bagnold Summer.” Daniel Bagnold, the film’s protagonist, is a reticent teenage metalhead with dreams of starting a band. Sue, his mother, is a librarian and single parent who longs to bond with her son. For six weeks in the summer, the two struggle to find harmony in their ordinary-yet-intricate life together.

It is a classic Belle & Sebastian story. Fittingly, then, on its original soundtrack for “Days of the Bagnold Summer,” the band pulls in three songs from its discography. “Safety Valve,” the oldest of the three, was penned before Murdoch formed the band. Never before released, the song reads like a dusted-off diary and recalls the band’s twee beginnings. “I Know Where the Summer Goes,” from 1998, gets a radiant boost on its soundtrack version. And the aforementioned “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying” is revisited too, albeit with a bit less integrity and charm than the original.

The soundtrack also includes eight new Belle & Sebastian songs, four instrumental, four with vocals. “Sister Buddha,” the strongest in the pack, is a triumph of rising action. Its whirling guitars and rousing horns drive the listener from the mundane — “Sister Buddha takes the all night bus” — to the sublime — “And if God won’t show her face / Fall upon your inner soul’s embrace.” In contrast, “This Letter” plays rather flat, its monotone vocals and colorless lyrics not buoyed by its simple instrumentation.

All in all, the “Days of the Bagnold Summer” soundtrack lacks the mythology-inspiring lyricism of Belle & Sebastian’s early work. Perhaps the film itself, which premieres at the Mill Valley Film Festival on Oct. 12, will help fill in the gaps in the band’s storytelling. But otherwise, the soundtrack resembles Belle & Sebastian’s middling mid-career work, not an entry point, but a worthy next listen.

Artist: Belle & Sebastian

Album: “Days of the Bagnold Summer” (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Label: Matador Records

Favorite Tracks: “Safety Valve,” “Sister Buddha,” “I’ll Keep It Inside”

If you like: The Magnetic Fields, Camera Obscura, God Help the Girl

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

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