The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

CULT ’90s: Belle & Sebastian – ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’

In some circles, the fact that If You’re Feeling Sinister did not make Belle & Sebastian the most popular band of the late 1990s is regarded as the greatest injustice in the history of popular music, such is the devotion it inspires. While that may be an overstatement, it is certainly not contentious to say that Belle & Sebastian divide opinion. All of the characteristics for which their fans adore them – shy ‘80s indie, twee ’60s folk-pop, general whimsy and wry humour – are the same things for which their detractors despise them. This, their first LP to be released in full circulation after their limited edition debut Tigermilk earlier the same year, is generally regarded by fans and critics, and also band leader Stuart Murdoch, to be their finest work.

IYFS consists of ten songs regarding romantic and sexual frustration, bookish nerdiness, crises of confidence, existentialism… all the things to interest your average shy teenager, basically. But they are delivered so compellingly, in Murdoch’s high-pitched croon, and by such a tight unit of musicians playing in a variety of tempos and textures that you cannot help but be drawn in.

Opener ‘The Stars Of Track And Field’ is a poised, acoustic piece, bolstered by quiet organ and brass backing. ‘Like Dylan In The Movies’ is a sleek Simon & Garfunkel-aping number, while ‘The Fox In The Snow’ is drop-dead gorgeous chamber-pop, the crisp and accurate acoustic guitar sounding like Doug Yule-era Velvet Underground.

The title track is an addictive singalong number on a strange jazz-country rhythm foundation. Faster, more immediate numbers include the brief character sketch of ‘Me And The Major’, the boisterous trumpet-enhanced ‘Judy And The Dream Of Horses’ and the poppy ‘Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying’ displays Murdoch’s humorous, self-aggrandising side as he declares “nobody writes them like they used to / so it may as well be me”. Choosing one track over the others is slightly arbitrary, as each has its unique charms and is of a piece with all the others

Though the production quality of IYFS is admittedly poor (so much so that B&S released a live performance from London’s Barbican in 2005 to make up for it), it did give the more delicate side of indie some much needed exposure after the grunge-dominated noise of the early 1990s and the boorish masculinity of the latter end of Britpop. Later B&S releases have not strayed too far from the model laid down here, and are also worth exploring.

Influenced: Idlewild, Camera Obscura, Jens Lekman, Sufjan Stevens, Franz Ferdinand, The Magic Numbers, Los Campesinos!, The New Pornographers, The Decemberists, The xx

Influenced by: Love, Nick Drake, The Residents, Orange Juice, Josef K, The Go-Betweens, The Field Mice, The Smiths, Felt, C86, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks

Listen to If You’re Feeling Sinister here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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