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Getting Into: Belle and Sebastian

How often have you said "I really think I would like that band, but I've never gotten into them"? Therein lies the inspiration for Getting Into, where I'll help start your education about a singer, band, or film director by telling you what albums or movies you'll need as a beginner, intermediate, and advanced fan. (Got ideas for Getting Into posts? Leave a comment or send me a private message.)

Today I'm taking on Belle and Sebastian, the Scottish indie pop band that combines childlike wonder with an adult sensibility (and a string section). Relentlessly literary and always clever, Belle and Sebastian makes some of the smartest danceable music I've ever heard. Here's how I'd recommend getting into Belle and Sebastian:

Beginner: If You're Feeling Sinister and The Boy with the Arab Strap

Together, these two albums are a great place to start your Belle and Sebastian collection. Between the two, they run the full gamut of B&S emotions, from peppy and upbeat ("Seeing Other People" from If You're Feeling Sinister) to contemplative ("It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career" from Arab Strap) to both ("Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" from Sinister). Between the two, Sinister probably has better individual songs, but Arab Strap is the kind of album that slowly seeps into your bloodstream until you can't remember what life was like before you heard it.

To see the intermediate and advanced selections, just

Intermediate: Tigermilk, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and Push Barman to Open Old Wounds

Now that you have a feel for Belle and Sebastian, it's time to go back to where it all started: Tigermilk, the band's first album, which saw very limited release in England in 1996 but wasn't widely available in the United States until 1999. The album includes some absolutely essential B&S songs, including "She's Losing It." This is also the stage for picking up Push Barman, which compiles out-of-print EPs and includes some of the most beautiful, and most unusual, songs the band has recorded. Finally, Dear Catastrophe Waitress includes a large number of songs that make me chuckle aloud, including the ode to an office affair "Step Into My Office, Baby."

Advanced: Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, The Life Pursuit, the Storytelling soundtrack, and various related projects

Now's the time to venture into albums that, frankly, aren't as strong but still have plenty to recommend them. The Life Pursuit, the band's most recent album, is maybe its most carefree, though it's almost too uncomplicated. Fold Your Hands Child nearly turned me off the band — when it misses, it misses big — but it also includes one or two of my favorite songs, including the heartbreaking "I Fought in a War." By this point, you'll be able to take what you like from these albums and ditch the rest. Also, check out the more recent projects of former band members Isobel Campbell (The Gentle Waves) and Stuart David (Looper), who were key in the band's early sound.


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