Photograph by Reuben Cox

Photograph by Reuben Cox

There are two distinct and equally great sides to Belle & Sebastian’s career: 1996 to 2003 and 2003 to now. Their fifth album, 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress found Belle & Sebastian jumping to Rough Trade Records with a new clean and slickly produced sound. Gone were the standard album openings of whispering vocals backed by a quietly strummed acoustic guitar; Belle & Sebastian came out to delightfully shock everyone with modern pop songs. The Third Eye Centre collects the b-sides to Belle & Sebastian’s three albums from this period: 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2006’s The Life Pursuit and 2010’s Write About Love. 

Much like their DVD, this release is very much “For Fans Only”. Though there are a good handful of tracks that very much hold their own, I can’t imagine a casual fan gravitating to this as a standalone record. Seeing that I am not a casual fan, I will praise this collection as an interesting look in to their later years and the creation of their last 3 records. What gets left behind is sometimes more interesting for wondering why it was left behind.

Starting with a batch of Dear Catastrophe Waitress b-sides, we can understand why some were left off, not for of any weakness of the song, but for just not fitting in. Guitarist Stevie Jackson’s “(I Believe in) Travellin’ Light” is a quiet gem that would have fit in great with say, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, but doesn’t quite fit in with the other hi-fi pop songs. “Love on the March” is a strange jazzy number that works on its own, but would have stuck out like a sore thumb if included on Dear Catastrophe Waitress. “Desperation Made a Fool of Me” and “Your Secrets” are definitely the closest you’ll get to songs that were worthy for Dear Catastrophe Waitress, their shimmering guitars and groovy baselines would have fit right in, but I guess album length always plays a part in decision making,

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— , October 28, 2013    Comments Off on Belle & Sebastian: The Third Eye Centre

All Photographs by Jan Kucic-Riker

Primavera Sound is an overwhelming and vastly stimulating music pilgrimage made each year to Barcelona, Spain. Over two hundred bands across eleven stages and timetables that schedule sets well past five in the morning make the musical mecca a monstrous undertaking. Fortunately, 140,000 music lovers joined me over the course of the three main days and two satellite events to dance, sing, and even swim at the Parc del Fòrum and Poble Espanyol. The eclectic line-up saw everything from unabashed hip-hop to captivating folk ballads and electronic DJ sets. Though the scheduling and sheer volume of music can make it difficult, somehow we found time to sleep amid the madness.

Getting any rest was a predicament owing to the tension of anti-government protests consuming Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya over the course of the week. Demonstrators voiced their concerns over the political and economic situation in Spain emphasizing the growing problem of unemployment amongst youth in the country. Primavera Sound also overlapped with the UEFA Cup Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United. As a result, the Saturday night schedule saw a two-hour gap in music as fans flooded the Llevant stage to watch the match on enormous screens. Whether or not you were a football fan, Barcelona’s victory was instantly apparent as celebrations ripped through the streets and onto La Rambla well past the closing sets at Primavera that night.

Outside its musical aspects, Primavera held an array of meanings. The festival had its transformative qualities, for instance, the colour and amount of wristbands one donned was the founding rule of social hierarchies over the duration of the week. Wrist apparel, stickers, and swipe cards, clung, stuck, and hung off fans as they hustled across the festival grounds. The photo areas provided amusement by way of disgruntled Spanish photographers who complained of poor lighting throughout various sets. Ultimately, the true meaning dawned as I watched a communal dance break out during ‘Summertime Clothes’ by Animal Collective as they closed out the festival at 2AM on the San Miguel Stage. It is my hope that the following images, sounds, and commentary will help convey the innumerable untellable sentiments of Primavera Sound 2011 with you.

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— , June 20, 2011    Comments Off on Primavera Sound Festival 2011

Rather than having a semantic argument about whether 2009 or 2010 was the end of the last decade, Ca Va Cool yet again brings you its top albums of the year. Through our patented, painstaking, super-secret process, we have separated the wheat from the chaff to bring you twenty of this year’s finest albums (and Sufjan Stevens). Albums 20 to 11 come today, with the top ten being revealed on Friday. Without further ado, here is the bottom ten.

Released on Secret City Records

20. Diamond RingsSpecial Affections

The first of several one-man bands in our 2010 list, Diamond Rings is the brainchild of John O’Regan of the D’Urbervilles. In his Diamond Rings persona, Johnny O discards the post-punk mentality of his primary band with a spunkier, glam-rock approach. Special Affections strikes a fine balance of new wave pop with darker moments, distinctly glam but without the corniness that dogged the genre in the ’80s. The catchy hooks are never lost behind the synth, driven by punchy and endearingly DIY GarageBand drum beats. All of this punctuated by O’Regan’s direct and personal lyrics, emoted with his surprisingly throaty voice. In the end, Diamond Rings’ debut sounds like a less punky Pete Shelley, or a less cheesy Gary Numan, and ultimately a more fun John O’Regan. — Sabrina Diemert

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— , December 20, 2010    1 Comment

Photograph by Reuben Cox

I guess this is what longevity means for an indie band. So much has changed since Belle & Sebastian broke through – not least the significance of that magical word “indie” – that it’s remarkable to be writing this review at all. Stuart Murdoch’s drizzly chamber pop brigade have been purveyors of self-aware uncoolness since before geek was chic; they gave “twee” its musical meaning and were grizzled veterans by the time the world learned what a Death Cab or a Decemberist was. It’s nice to see them still around, and even nicer to see them producing something more or less of note.

As per usual, Belle & Sebastian Write About Love is an eclectic series of brisk, weary pop arrangements that carry Murdoch’s stiff and intelligent songs from the schoolhouse to the office to the dance floor. It’s a sequel in spirit to The Life Pursuit, the band’s previous release, sounding clearer and more formal – and yes, more grown-up – than we’ve heard from Belle & Sebastian so far, but not sacrificing much in the way of character. The distinctive cynical energy of If You’re Feeling Sinister and The Boy With the Arab Strap still pushes through from time to time, and when that’s not the case you’re left with decently interesting music all the same.

Write About Love features a bit of fresh air up front, as the first two tracks, ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’ and ‘Come On Sister’, depart a little from the Belle & Sebastian formula with a pair of synth-heavy, dance-friendly productions. Later, on ‘Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John’, Murdoch does his best Paul Simon impression while ceding singing duties to adult contemporary songstress Norah Jones. It’s an interesting change of pace to hear Murdoch and his self-occupied murmur laying texture to be sung over by someone with star power. For the band’s classic sound, your best bet is ‘The Ghost of Rockschool’, which would be right at home among the evocative schoolyard ennuis of Tigermilk and Sinister.

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— , October 6, 2010    Comments Off on Belle & Sebastian Write About Love

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan’s third outing, Hawk, features 48 agreeable minutes of sultry, sexy, bluesy folk rock. It doesn’t, however, feature much that hasn’t been explored in their two previous releases. Hawk is no breakout or breakthrough, but those who enjoyed listening to (or possibly making out to) those older discs will find plenty to smile about.

Campbell and Lanegan are products of different musical worlds, and their collaboration has always been an unlikely one. As the 2000s were dawning, Lanegan and his band, grunge mainstays Screaming Trees, were headed back to the studio with dwindling enthusiasm on their way to a depressing and long-anticipated breakup. Meanwhile, Campbell was a cellist and timid wisp of a voice behind Stuart Murdoch in her band at the moment: a little outfit called Belle & Sebastian, icon of twee millennial indiedom. Even the most precocious of indie kids probably didn’t see this transatlantic combination coming.

But combine they did, beginning in 2006 with Ballad of the Broken Seas, and with the release of Hawk they now have a respectably sizable three-volume discography on the shelf. It’s obvious that both of them carry a lot of love for this collaboration, and the fact that there isn’t a whole lot to distinguish Hawk from previous Campbell & Lanegan discs only matters if you were hoping for something new.

The standout track here is ‘Time of the Season’. Close your eyes and imagine Lanegan singing his part an octave higher with a Glaswegian lisp; Campbell’s songwriting clearly owes plenty to her years with Belle & Sebastian, which in this context is quite a blessing. This track features much of what makes the best B&S songs work – snappy lyrics, understated catchiness, an ambiguously ironic string section – while never abandoning the atmosphere of decadent Americana that envelops all of Hawk.

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— , September 22, 2010    1 Comment