Music

Belle & Sebastian: How to Solve Our Human Problems Part 1 EP

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

Belle & Sebastian may be 20 years older, but the band still feels young. That's the problem of being human. There's not a person over 40 that doesn't feel 20.

When Belle & Sebastian were just starting out, they released three EPs, Dog on Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light, over a six-month period that earned them much critical and popular acclaim. These EPs cemented the group's reputation as the premier twee indie band. The music was charming: effusively soft, self-reflective and fun. The lyrics celebrated innocence lost and found and lost again combined with chamber pop instrumentation that suggested the inherent value of formal feelings. The songs resembled extended sighs during a crass commercial era of Spice Girls, R Kelly, and boy band manufactured naïveté.


Belle & Sebastian

How to Solve Our Human Problems Part 1 EP

(Matador)

Release Date: 8 Dec 2017

Twenty years later Belle & Sebastian are at it again. This month they've released the first of three new EPs under the collective title How to Solve Our Human Problems. After a series of musical detours, individual projects, changes in group members and such, Stuart Murdoch and company have returned to the original sound that made them famous. The first five songs could be mistaken for unreleased tracks from an earlier era, but they are a bit more knowing. Or as Murdoch sings on the first track, "Swee Dew Lee": "I didn't think after 20 years / I'd be right back in the self-same places." There may be a bit more self-awareness, but the songs' personae are no wiser than the prescient narrators were before.

So when Murdoch recollects the past on "We Were Beautiful", he understands that he was always clueless. That left him and his friends open to new experiences before time turned everything upside down. Yes, they have changed, but he reminds us that they are not too old to change again. He delivers the message in a whispery voice over an insistent percussive beat and a recurrent brass fanfare. One is forever young no matter how old one gets.

This theme is reiterated on the other tracks, albeit in different clothes. "The Girl Doesn't Get It" concerns the ever-present myth that there is one perfect person for each of us. Murdoch mocks the sentiment even as he yearns to believe it. People and their feelings can change so easily. Life passes by. Today's headlines suggest problems one never predicted. Yet, one can still find love in a supermarket. Even compared with the growth of the internet and the status of immigrant refugees, love continues to stand out as a true miracle.

Violinist Sarah Martin takes over the lead vocals on "Fickle Season" and quietly evokes the same sentiment. Birds know when to fly south, and lovers understand when to move on. The rhythms of life seem so natural. It's always the time of the season for love, as the Zombies used to sing. Seasons may change, but they circle back again. Love may be capricious, but desire is a constant.

The EP's mostly instrumental last song, "Everything is Now" begins and ends with the title phrase. It's followed by the phrase, "Everything is different, now". The lead organ gives the music a churchy feel. It's a sermon on acceptance. Near the very end of the song, they sneak in the line "Everything is indifferent, now" suggesting age has worn them down. But Belle & Sebastian still worship at the altar of love. Belle & Sebastian may be 20 years older, but the band still feels young. That's the problem of being human. There's not a person over 40 that doesn't feel 20. There's no getting over age. The only solution is to be aware of the changes and celebrate.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.