Fans of Scottish indiepop were recently promised a full album of Belle & Sebastian songs soundtracking the new Todd Solondz movie Storytelling. The record has so far not emerged and may have left fans looking for a surrogate replacement.
Perusal of year-end “if you like that, try this” lists may have led you to stumble across last year’s Y’all Get Scared Now, Ya’hear by The Reindeer Section. The record is being touted as a unique collaboration between the Scottish indiepop mafia, featuring members of Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian, Arab Strap. You’d be forgiven for expecting it to embody some of the finer qualities of those diverse acts. However, as soon as the first song starts, you can tell this is actually the work of just one guy, a struggling singer/songwriter who has managed to rope famous friends in to guest on his record.
That one guy is Gary Lightfoot of Snow Patrol, one of the lesser bands riding on the coattails of Belle & Sebastian over the last few years. The two bands share a record label in the UK, but Snow Patrol never amounted to being more than an average indie band, insignificance struggling for attention in an overcrowded scene.
While this record is far better than anything Snow Patrol have produced, it still falls far too short of warranting the kind of connections it has, and the attention that comes with it. Simply put, its caliber is more Gentle Waves than Belle & Sebastian.
It’s a pity Lightfoot had to use his more famous friends to make this record. Listening to the CD, one cannot easily detach oneself from making comparative associations. This shows the arrangements to rely heavily on his friends and much of the material is unsubstantial in light of his cohort’s oeuvres. This isn’t to say its all bad. In fact it is not bad at all, just fairly standard, without enough moments to warrant lasting interest nor enough to deserve a critical lambasting.
The first song, “Will You Please Be There For Me”, is a gentle acoustic number, a bit self-pitying, but nicely reminiscent of Badly Drawn Boy or Lou Barlow. It does not take long for the album to become a carbon copy of superior works though. “12 Hours It Takes Sometimes” starts with a morose drumbeat that could almost be Arab Strap’s “Soaps” and the spoken vocal does nothing to dispel the comparison. “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet” cops Mogwai’s quieter moments, the passages of fragile song structure which serve as prelude to the maelstrom of fury the band so passionately unleashes. Anything quite as thrilling as Mogwai’s guitar freakouts is sadly missing here though. Belle & Sebastian’s Isobel takes lead vocals on “Fire Bell”, rendering the song nothing more than a reject to one of her weak solo records.
Keeping the record short and sweet would have helped it avoid outstaying its welcome, keeping it in the realm of middling curiosity, rather than wholly derivative work. By “Sting”, the tenth track, the album has lasted long enough. It would be a good song to end on, with a droning quality and subtle use of accordion that is suggestive of Novak and the Birmingham collective.
Consequently, the final four songs end up sounding like superfluous bonus tracks, served further by one of them featuring Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap’s only vocal on this record. They serve to tire one’s patience and are the most apt reminder here that bands like the Delgados, Mogwai, Arab Strap and Belle & Sebastian have earned their success not by virtue of an incestuous indie scene, but rather by genuine musical talent. The Reindeer Section shows the odd glimpse of such talent, but sadly, it is far too often thanks to the album’s guests rather than the quality of the songs themselves.