Belle & Sebastian: Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant

Colm Ward

Belle & Sebastian

Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2000-06-06

Okay, all you latter-day hipsters. Time to crawl out of those garrets and make haste to your local record shops. The new Belle & Sebastian album has arrived. Titled Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, this is their fourth full-length album and follows closely on the heels of the recently released EP Legal Man.

And if Legal Man was an uncharacteristic blast of summery cheer, then this new release sees a return to the downbeat Belle & Sebastian we (or at least some of us) all know and love. No sunshine anthems here, just a healthy dose of melancholy-tinged blinds-drawn ditties.

So, how to categorize Belle & Sebastian? That's a tricky one. Merchants of bedsit adolescent angst, or super-savvy purveyors of pop pastiche? Well, take your pick really because there's a lot of each in what they do. And plenty more besides.

The songs on this album, not unlike the rest of their work to date, are tragicomic narratives on the unfairness and wanton coldness of the world. Or, more specifically, this unfairness and coldness as seen through the eyes of the sensitive, heroic inhabitants of the Belle & Sebastian world.

The vocals are delicate and wavering, imbued with a forlorn sweetness. But this apparent flimsiness disguises the savagery of the lyrics. Take "Family Tree," which comes across like a demented nursery rhyme, all sweet vocals and haunting innocence, but smoking with lyrical anger. Or the wounded resignation of "The Chalet Lines" with lyrics like, "Fuck this, I've felt like this for a week / I'd put a knife right into his eyes." It's songs like this that dispel any notion that Belle & Sebastian are just a bunch of smart-aleky college students messing around with themes of teenage angst.

While the tone throughout the album is resolutely low-key, the tempo is upped to foot-tapping level on a couple of the tracks with "Women's Realm" even going so far as to boast a hand-clapping accompaniment. But even these numbers stick firmly in minor keys, retaining that touch of sweet sadness that lingers amongst the songs, a mood which is further marked by the understated instrumentals.

Depending on your perspective, Belle & Sebastian are either a blessed acoustic relief in these elecronica-saturated times, or an anachronistic throwback to those dark pre-electronic days. Either way, they seem resolute in the determination to stick to the old-fashioned musical artillery. Violins, acoustic guitars, horns, flutes -- all add to that distinct (but not necessarily unpleasant) behind the times feel of this collection.

With this album, they are not exactly breaking any new ground. They are just getting better at doing what they do. And maybe maturing slightly too. The adolescent sensitivity of their earlier work is making way for a more knowing, but still idealistic, adulthood. Still dreaming of love and innocence but with a few extra bruises picked up along the way.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.