“We move in space, and we can move in time
Everything existed right from the start” from ‘The Power of Three”, Belle and Sebastian
Stuart Murdoch always wanted to dance. That wasn’t just something he did early in his career – which kicked off at the age of 28 with the fairy tale beginning, Tigermilk. From 2006’s ‘Sukie in the Graveyard’ to 2010’s ‘I Want the World to Stop’, Murdoch found a way to bounce around to even the most mid-tempo of melancholy Belle and Sebastian jams. Throw in an extra dance jam on your new album at the age of 46, and the indie world does stop – but truth be told; Murdoch has never stopped dancing. There are two true dance tracks on Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance but they don’t define this outstanding album.
Boomeranging between whimsy tales of trouble-free hipsters and cautionary tales about love, Murdoch’s prolific nature the past decade has probably surpassed even his own expectations. It almost seemed like ten years ago (2006 actually) that Murdoch realized he was destined for more than just one twee album every two years with artsy videos attached. Enter God Help The Girl – first the ‘soundtrack’ album, then the KickStarter movie project, the females casting contest, the movie production, another double-album soundtrack, and here we are in 2015 with Murdoch delivering only two albums of original Belle and Sebastian material over the past 8-9 years. Yet we feel fulfilled.
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance ranks with Murdoch and the band’s best. If you can erase the nostalgia effect that If You’re Feeling Sinister and Tigermilk have done to bias your thinking about the best of their catalog, the new album is Belle and Sebastian at their finest. An album that stands equal or above their previous best. Beginning with the startling autobiographical ‘Nobody’s Empire’ and culminating with the hushed throwback ‘Today (This Army’s for Peace)’, the album offers far more than just a collection of dance tracks. In fact the best tracks of the album step slowly, not quickly. ‘The Power of Three’ and ‘The Book of You’ sung with the typical girl-school vocal stylings of bandmate Sarah Martin are true delights. Martin’s vocal contributions have become increasingly vital to the growth of the band – highlighted by her major contributions on the prior Belle album, Write About Love. She’s the best secret weapon the band has going for it.
The twelve new tracks are truly garden variety Belle and Sebastian (‘Ever Had a Little Faith’ is a prime example). An eclectic mix of tracks that if taken one at a time could be delicately placed inside nearly any release from their eclectic catalog. The one eye-opener is the standout duet (‘Play for Today’) with Dee Dee Penny of the Dum Dum Girls. To see Murdoch align himself with a modern-day indie punk/pop goddess like Penny is a delight after the Norah Jones ill-fated experiment. Together they form the most unlikely of duos which makes it all that more ballsy – and outstanding.
Carrying forward the powerful torch from 2010’s ‘The Ghost of Rockschool’ (one of the highlights from the aforementioned Write About Love), ‘The Cat and the Cream’ is the dark, sinister gem that sounds as if Murdoch is singing the track’s lyrics while hiding deceptively around the corner in the back of the studio room. It’s classic Belle and Sebastian at their best – the type of track you’ve heard 40 times from Murdoch, yet each of those 40 stories breathes its own unique type of oxygen.
Hidden album highlight: The final minute of ‘Ever Had a Little Faith’. Simply perfect.