Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is Belle and Sebastian’s ninth studio album, after nearly five years off. Frontman Stuart Murdoch — he of the charming Scottish accent and the adorable tenor — took off a few years in there to work on the musical film God Help the Girl. But what were Belle and Sebastian doing all the rest of that time?
Oh, they were just reinventing their sound completely, apparently. Girls is a radical departure from Belle and Sebastian’s previous work, and it’s incredibly successful. The band’s past is full of incredibly strong work, but can feel too cute by half, full of happy jangling. This album pushes into territory that’s less cheerful and more hopeful, and far more musically sophisticated. We’d call it experimental, with how it plays with new instruments and styles, but they pull everything off with such confidence that you’d swear they’ve been doing this for years.
Appropriately for the title, this is the most danceable album of theirs yet, with subtle synth hooks. The album’s only single so far, “The Party Line”, features slinky rhythms and pounding drums.
“Enter Sylvia Plath” is (unexpectedly) so full of energy and brilliance, and yet so danceable, that we literally covered our ears and hyperventilated for a moment while listening, because we thought we’d overdose on feels.
The album’s produced by Ben H. Allen III, who’s working with the band for his first time. While we don’t normally crow about production around these parts, we’re amazed by how he moves the sound into psychedelia without it ever sounding overblown. “Perfect Couples,” a charming track with some spacey sounds, opens with some African-style drumming that would make David Byrne proud; it persists throughout but never overwhelms the song or wears out its welcome. “The Everlasting Muse” shifts between an intimate, jazzy feeling and a full-out oompah band with what we feel pretty sure are balalaikas, before it blends the two together seamlessly at the end. If that sounds impossible, give it a listen, because we’re 100% for real.
Girls is evidently a concept album, centering on the protagonist Allie, and whose titular track smacks of the Association. If the album fails, it’s in this concept – like a lot of Belle and Sebastian’s material, Girls is about a progression into adulthood and cultivating confidence in self and relationship with others, and if that’s not where your mind is you’ll likely find it lyrically and thematically uninteresting. But the payoff to all the angst is “The Book of You,” where a delightful love affair culminates in a dirty, ecstatic, orgiastic guitar solo – words we’d never associate with Belle and Sebastian before now. That’s where Girls succeeds: in the risks it takes.