Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"So I gave myself to God/There was a pregnant pause before he said OK."

The Song: "The State I'm In," Belle & Sebastian. Words & music by Stuart Murdoch. Track 1 of Tigermilk, 1996.
How/when acquired: Downloaded MP3, 2007.
Listen/watch here.

I would like to pretend that I'm so cool I bought Tigermilk when it was new, but of course I didn't. I did not become aware of Belle & Sebastian until I moved to Los Angeles, and heard them on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. Around the same time, they got a funny shout-out in the movie High Fidelity:

Barry (Jack Black): Holy shite. What the fuck is that?
Dick (Todd Louiso): It's the new Belle and Sebastian...
Rob (John Cusack): It's a record we've been listening to and enjoying, Barry.
Barry: Well, that's unfortunate, because it sucks ass.

Transatlantic friends refer to them as "cardigan music," which may be a reference to the fact that the second track on this album, "Expectations," opens with the sound of Stuart Murdoch unzipping his cardigan, or maybe just to the clothing preferences of Belle & Sebastian's fans.

Anyway, I was late to them, and did not acquire Tigermilk until 2007, after my friend Kevin quoted this song to me and expressed surprise that I didn't own it. An iTunes gift certificate at Christmas remedied the omission.

"Precious" is a word I've heard used to describe Belle & Sebastian, and "twee" is another, although "twee" is one of those words that seems to mean whatever the person using it wants it to mean. But if they take themselves a little seriously, even when they're joking, what is wrong with that? I have said before in this space that I often feel wistful for the days of my adolescence, when I took myself seriously and felt I had a right to do so.


Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Ya know, Belle and Sebastian are precious, and twee, and indie, and not-indie, and personal I kinda feel like fuck-all in terms of what term applies or label belongs. I love Belle and Sebastian, and finally realized that I just can't spend too much time reading what Pitchfork thinks of them or get lost in a sinkhole about whether they're "indie" or not (cause really does it really matter what indie is?).

The band writes beautiful, literate, insanely hook-y songs that borrow from a rich musical tradition and yet are innovative in a minor if not major way. I love this song, which shares a similar construct to another gorgeous tune of theirs, I Fought in A War, where Stuart Murdoch enters singing solo, and gradually the rest of band enters, backing his words and melody.

I am loving this blog of yours Ellen, and its wonderful to be reminded of the way that music is both shared and intensely personal, without regard to "what it is" in the way it's so often reviewed or discussed. B&S is a band that's intensely pleasurable and evocative and resonant for me (so many hours I've spent loving their music with my younger daughter) thanks for this post, and for the blog so far!

AnswerGirl said...

You are right about the need to ignore what critics tell us we should think about music. As another friend said recently, when it comes to music, there are no guilty pleasures: there's good and bad, and anything you like is good. Belle & Sebastian = good.