Make a New Cult Everyday: The 10 Best Belle and Sebastian Non-Album Songs

Photo by Ronnie Black/Courtesy of Jeepster Recordings

It's hard to think of any current band that's gotten as much mileage out of non-album releases as Belle and Sebastian has.

In a review of The Third Eye Centre, Belle and Sebastian's latest collection of non-album odds'n'ends, I write, "It's hard to think of any current band that's gotten as much mileage out of non-album releases as Belle and Sebastian has. Right when the Glasgow pop collective was starting out, its streak of winning EPs helped to define the band almost as much its full-lengths, taking an all-killer-no-filler approach to them." While most bands tend to clear out whatever vaults they have for EPs, b-sides, and compilation tracks, Belle and Sebastian have tended to treat such projects with the same loving care and attention they devote to their LPs. If anything, some of Belle and Sebastian's most compelling and developed material has shown up on EPs, singles, and other unlikely places, whether it's adventurous detours like 1997's Lazy Line Painter Jane and 2004's Books or first steps in the directions they move into later on, like with the lite-symphonic mode of a pair of 2001 efforts, "Jonathan David" and "I'm Waking Up to Us".

To mark the release of The Third Eye Centre, PopMatters presents the top ten Belle and Sebastian non-album tracks. Actually, what's gathered here might not be so far away from a best-of list of all Belle and Sebastian songs, considering on how these tracks touch on the breadth of styles and moods the beloved group has covered over the years.


10. "I'm a Cuckoo" (Avalanches Remix) (2004)
("I'm a Cuckoo" single)

It's blasphemous to suggest that outsiders could do a better version of a Belle and Sebastian song than Belle and Sebastian themselves, but that's the case with the Avalanches' remix of "I'm a Cuckoo". Infusing the Dear Catastrophe Waitress single with a world music vibe, the Avalanches' remake draws out a more organic side to Belle and Sebastian with casual wind instruments and warm percussion. And when Stuart Murdoch sings, "I'd rather be in Tokyo / I'd rather listen to Thin Lizzy-o / And watch the Sunday gang in Harajuku", the samples of hustling, bustling chit-chat strike a note of extroverted gregariousness that shy, retiring types like Belle and Sebastian sometimes need someone else to bring out of 'em.


9. "Jonathan David" (2001)
("Jonathan David" single)

"Jonathan David" isn't just guitarist Stevie Jackson's most triumphant non-album contribution to the Belle and Sebastian canon, it might be the best example of what his songwriting is capable of. Whereas some of Jackson's B&S tracks can stick out in the flow of things on an album, "Jonathan David" impeccably blends in with his band's M.O., with its dense '70s-ish melody and pitch-perfect orchestration. Thematically, it fits with Belle and Sebastian's underdog narrative too, with Jackson playing the Jonathan role to King David derived from the Biblical tale, resigned to playing the third wheel in a two-person relationship on the song -- as it ends, "You and her in the local newspaper / You will be married and you'll be gone". Evoking Jules et Jim, the video for the track is even more suggestive and Freudian, with Jackson and Murdoch as the opposite numbers.


8. "This Is Just a Modern Rock Song" (1998)
(This Is Just a Modern Rock Song EP)

When "This Is Just a Modern Rock Song" came out in 1998, an aura of mystery still shrouded the members of Belle and Sebastian. Not long removed from a time when one of the band's first press photos featured a friend in a surgeon's mask, "Modern Rock Song" gave a rare look inside the band, or at least some kind of semi-fictionalized version of it. Regardless of the verisimilitude of the sketches, what was important was that these "four boys in our corduroys" became characters as vivid and endearing as the ones they wrote about. So maybe B&S was being disingenuously self-effacing by claiming that "We're not terrific but we're competent", though that description might have been apt for a band was still relatively inexperienced and on the way up. The thing is, with the benefit of hindsight, Belle and Sebastian had reached their peak then, finding what happened to be the perfect balance between youthful precocity and developing virtuosity.


7. "I'm Waking Up to Us" (2001)
("I'm Waking Up to Us" single)

While Belle and Sebastian's love songs tend to be about love of an unrequited nature, "I'm Waking Up to Us" flips that script as a song about love that wasn't meant be -- as Murdoch puts it on the break-up number, "We're a disaster". Indeed, "I'm Waking Up to Us" ushers in a certain level of maturity for Belle and Sebastian, both musically and thematically speaking, as if the group had come through to the other side of their daydreams and realized they weren't always all they were cracked up to be. With rich strings and bold semi-orchestral elements like flute and harpsichord, the song found Belle and Sebastian playing with greater panache and spirit, probably coming from justly earned confidence and proficiency. But it's Murdoch's jaundiced view of love that comes through most forcefully here, as he's disabused by the illusions he indulged in on earlier offerings, realizing how little the romantic leads on the song have in common when he concludes, "I cannot keep the anger hidden any more / But lucky for you, you're not around / My anger turns to pity and to love".


6. "Photo Jenny" (1997)
(Lazy Line Painter Jane EP)

"Photo Jenny" is the archetypal case of a typical Belle and Sebastian song, a sweetly downcast vignette just a little more poignant and finely wrought than most. Here, Murdoch captures the feeling of luxuriating in melancholy as well as he ever has, feeling forlorn with "all my friends...on their holidays". But Murdoch doesn't just make do with who's still around, as there's a sense of bonhomie and camaraderie between him and the lovable losers he meets and greets that more than gets them through the day, whether it's grabbing fish and chips after work, vegging out to old sitcoms, or people watching at the pub. While it can be hard for Murdoch to separate his daydreams from real life -- "Oh, I shut my eyes / I'll make a film / And the star of it is...Photo Jenny" -- the track, like the best B&S songs, makes you realize how rich the mundane is and how the day-to-day isn't something to just get through, but serves up experiences to cherish before they pass you by.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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