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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.


Join The Conversation
raieven raieven 9 years
Tigermilk is my FAVORITE FAVORITE FAVORITE album by them. With 'Line Painter Lazy Jane' (EP) my second favorite.
7kimba7 7kimba7 9 years
I LOVE LOVE LOVE "The State That I Am In" The lyrics are just so friggin clever, with one of my faves being "So I gave myself to God, there was a pregnant pause before he said 'ok.'"
wambalus wambalus 9 years
Now living in Glasgow, it's impossible not to hear Belle & Sebastian on a daily basis, in shops, pubs, clubs, radio etc. Have to say Lazy Line Painter Jane is my all time favourite song. And my (Glaswegian) partner feels affinity to the line from Boy with the Arab Strap - "We all know you're soft because we've all seen you dancing, we all know you're hard because we've all seen you drinking from noon until noon again." Yeah, not uncommon up here! Great band, even got my mom into them.
UrbanBohemian UrbanBohemian 9 years
I have so been wanting to get into this group. Now just may be the right time!
beingtazim beingtazim 9 years
i'm glad to hear it, Buzz! :)
Entertainment Entertainment 9 years
tdamji and KerryG — that's exactly what I would have said for Dar Williams. Awesome!
catstarr catstarr 9 years
love b&s. One of the hardest bands for people to get into in my experience, is Radiohead. No one seems to know where to start.
beingtazim beingtazim 9 years
KerryG - i'll help with Dar Williams - I adore her!! :) I saw her at Lilith Fair in 1998 and have been loving her since then! easy:end of the summer (very catchy, clever songs), the green world (especially I Won't be Your Yoko Ono) Medium: mortal city (some great, really folksy songs), the honesty room (more folksy stuff) Advanced: My Better Self (her newest one), the beauty of the rain
Francesca-Fiore Francesca-Fiore 9 years
Wow, this is a superb idea for a regular feature. I can't wait to see what you guys come up with. Personally I've already kind of been through my Belle & Sebastian phase, but if you haven't od'd on them like I have, they're a great band to get into. Nicachica, great suggestions for bands, esp. Elvis Costello and The Kinks, stuff that people are like, "oh yeah, I like that one song, but I don't know much about that artist..." I also like the idea of Getting Into's about film directors. Wes Anderson comes to mind, but that may be a little too obvious- you're kind of either into him or not. How about Noah Baumbach? Woody Allen would be a great one too. You could even go a little more old school, like Billy Wilder or George Cukor. Awesome feature Buzz, I look forward to coming editions!
DCStar DCStar 9 years
Looooove B&S. Their music is like my Sunday Soundtrack! It's perfect.
KerryG KerryG 9 years
Thanks for posting this! I have one of their songs (Step Into My Office, Baby) on my iPod and really like it, but have never known quite where to start with their other music. Now I do. :D Anyone wanna help me with Dar Williams, Ani Difranco, and Bright Eyes now? ;)
LaLaLaurie06 LaLaLaurie06 9 years
i do enjoy belle and sebastian!!!
Saturn9 Saturn9 9 years
Thanks for posting this! I've heard a lot about them, and I know I've heard songs by them that I liked, I just never knew where to start.
Monoka Monoka 9 years
I love this band, I like: she is into books, such a catchy song and I'm waking up to us, great break up song...if it applies to your story. LOL great choice Buzz
swwonder swwonder 9 years
I find I have to be in the mood for Belle and Sebastian. Sometimes Last FM will slip them in when I'm not paying attention and I'll love it, but the rest of the time I'll just skip them.
Amanda-La Amanda-La 9 years
Although, if you're feeling sinister is a catchy song.
Amanda-La Amanda-La 9 years
My husband loves Belle and Sebastian but I never felt it too much. It's not really my style.
nicachica nicachica 9 years
i think i've heard about 2 of their songs in my life and only cuz my indie-lovin college roommate was OBSESSED with them. but yeah, i'm totally down to give them a try. hey Buzz, i think i really like this feature! here's some other bands/artists i'd love to hear more about: + Elvis Costello + The Kinks + Arcade Fire + Death Cab for Cutie + The Velvet Underground/Lou Reed + Tori Amos + Johnny Cash i've been a classic rock girl (ZEPPELIN! The DOORS!) for quite awhile and i've been trying to branch out. All the indie rock stuff i hear is pretty cool and i'd like to learn more. Thanks!
WhatTheFrockBlog WhatTheFrockBlog 9 years
I love Belle & Sebastian, although I was really late getting into them. When I first heard them back in the 90's, I thought they were overly precious and twee. But a few years later, I gave them another shot and fell in LOVE. Go figure.
Brooklynbee Brooklynbee 9 years
I have everything ever released by Belle and Sebastian. I'm seen them live many times. OK, you might say I'm obsessed... and I wouldn't argue with that statement. They're my favorite band!
beingtazim beingtazim 9 years
oooh...yes, wrapped up in books is MY life song too! :) seriously.
beingtazim beingtazim 9 years
my very favorite band! :) they are so great live if you ever get a chance to see them! my favorite albums are the ones in the advanced category and the if you're feeling sinister album. i actually think Dear Catastrophe Waitress is one of the weaker albums, personally. i also disagree with you about the life pursuit album! i love it and yeah, they sound so great singing songs from it live!
jennaboa jennaboa 9 years
I love this band! "Wrapped up in Books" from Dear Catastrophe Waitress is practically my life's theme song. (Go figure.) Thanks for the profile!
Lavenderia Lavenderia 9 years
YES! One of my all time favourite bands... I have to disagree with you on The Life Pursuit - if anything, it should be a beginner album precisely because it IS so accessible. It's less complicated, which is why its a good one to start off with. Every single song is unbelivably catchy, and I love it to death. 'Sukie in the Graveyard' brings a smile to my face everytime I hear it. It's ridiculously awesome. If You're Feeling Sinister I found took longer to get into, but it's pure genius. Very different from Life Pursuit, but I love that the band has evolved and hasn't just stuck to a certain sound or formula. Arab Strap is definitely a must. P.S. Currently listening to 'Your Cover's Blown'. Perfection.
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