Belle and Sebastian
If You're Feeling Sinister


5.0
classic

Review

by Ali CONTRIBUTOR (130 Reviews)
October 31st, 2012 | 19 replies | 3,252 views


Release Date: 1996 | Tracklist

Review Summary: "Oh, get me away from here I'm dying, play me a song to set me free / nobody writes them like they used to, so it may as well be me!"

From queer nobodies to overnight sensations, it's fair to say Tigermilk left Belle & Sebastian in a pretty good position. College funded and limited to a thousand vinyl copies, the LP catapulted the group to the very forefront of Scotland's independent music scene, simultaneously sparking a frantic label scramble from which Glasgow specialists Jeepster eventually emerged victorious. It was the type of achievement which smacked of a one-off - not that anyone bothered to tell Stuart Murdoch, the creative lynchpin around whom the entire outfit was based. Whereas most would have taken years and considerable thought following-up such a classic debut, Murdoch set about the task immediately, perhaps conscious he was in the eye of a purple patch most writers can scarcely fantasise over. The resulting album, If You're Feeling Sinister, surfaced a mere five months later, a side note which somehow winded up being one of the less remarkable facets to its blessed existence.

As you'd imagine, not an awful lot had changed during such a swift turnaround. The band, still in its relative infancy, had added violinist Sarah Martin to its ranks, but by and large everything else remained the same; a notion which can likewise be applied to Murdoch's songcraft. Tender, unassuming and outrageously melodic, these fresh compositions represented a logical continuation, revolving around the same themes of alienation, dreams and sexuality whilst conveying an identical sense of blissful naïvety. This time, though, there was a catch; far from mere rehashes, these songs were superior to their predecessors - far superior. They were in fact so good they managed to eradicate what few flaws Tigermilk had, ironing over the divots whilst reveling in their own self-conceived aural delights. No longer a prisoner in his own chronically-fatigued body, Murdoch's solace in music had seen him stroll casually and almost inevitably into the realms of pure unadulterated pop perfection.

You could pass hours discussing all the factors which make If You're Feeling Sinister a masterpiece. There's the withdrawn, isolated production, the unwavering coherence, the tasteful and varied instrumentation - even Murdoch's vocals, flat and fragile though they seem flawless slotted amongst such sublime surroundings. Ultimately though, this record is only as good as the ten songs from which it's compiled, and it's no exaggeration to say they paint Murdoch among the most gifted craftsmen of his - or indeed any - generation.

Perhaps the most striking example is "Seeing Other People," a cut which tackles themes of inner turmoil and homosexual experimentation turmoil with such moving sincerity it's practically impossible not to relate. Amid a swathe of looping piano, gorgeous violin and gently strummed guitar, refrains like "kissing just for practice," "we won't get in a muddle" and "seeing other people - at least that's what we say we are doing" roll effortlessly from the singer's tongue, masterfully encapsulating the feelings of innocence and confusion required to successfully negotiate such a delicate topic.

Elsewhere, Murdoch's way with a hook is also fully in evidence. "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" for instance douses his shamelessly twee contributions in a glorious stream of Stevie Jackson guitar licks, displaying the his folkier tendencies atop a sea of addictive, undisguised melody. Elsewhere, "Me And The Major" and "Mayfly" perform a similar trick with an added dose of spontaneity, while the stark wistful beauty of "Fox In The Snow" lays bare not only emotion but also the sheer diversity of talents at the his disposal. Then, of course, there's "Judy And The Dream Of Horses," a truly indispensable closer whose raunchy narrative is hidden behind a touching tale of nonsensical juvenile imagination. Spellbindingly intimate, it's almost akin to the group turning up unannounced in your front room, and to this day remains a live fixture.

Most good bands manage to stumble upon these strands of sheer, undistilled brilliance once or twice in their lifetime, with many subsequently building careers from their solitary moments of inspiration. Only the true masters strike gold with any degree of regularity, but even in such a brief time period it'd become obvious Stuart Murdoch belonged in that category. Perfect in virtually every sense, If You're Feeling Sinister is conclusive evidence of his genius; a staggering, majestic feat in songwriting which acts as a towering pinnacle for both Belle & Sebastian musical escapism as a whole. This was as good as it got. Improvement beyond possibility, there was only one way the collective and its talismanic leader could go. At this stage, the only question was how far they'd fall...



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Comments:Add a Comment 
AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
October 31st 2012



7322 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Also posted at http://www.muzikdizcovery.com/

This, needless to say, is one of my all time favourites. Feedback much appreciated!

KILL
October 31st 2012



71087 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

hm!

Digging: David Axelrod - Song of Innocence

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
October 31st 2012



49955 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I could have sworn you already reviewed this

Digging: Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - You Will Eventually Be Forgotten

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
October 31st 2012



7322 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Nah I did the similarly amazing Tigermilk a few months back. I'll be turning this into a discog review, but I'll be doing other things in between so it'll be a slow one.

Tyrael
October 31st 2012



20795 Comments


essential album

great work as always Ali

CrisStyles
October 31st 2012



767 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Good review, Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying is the best song on this album.

Cygnatti
October 31st 2012



21349 Comments


low ratings itt

bungy
November 1st 2012



8843 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is one of those albums I need to spend some more bonding time with

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
November 1st 2012



7322 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah it's definitely the least immediate of B&S's early ones. It's one of those records where I seem to hear something new every time.

Gyromania
November 4th 2012



15449 Comments


i know i've changed my mind a thousand times regarding b&s's best album, but i think i've finally settled on this one.

Ethics
November 4th 2012



4112 Comments


good album but pretty boring and gay

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
November 4th 2012



7322 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Not boring in the slightest, though I can't really argue about the gayness haha.

@ Matt what are the other contenders, just Dear Catastrophe Waitress?

Gyromania
November 4th 2012



15449 Comments


i can definitely see where people are coming from when they call this boring, but i'm far too head-
over-heels in love with them to think that.

ali: besides catastrophe waitress, i'd say the life pursuit. other than those, boy with the arab strap
comes close. good review btw, just got around to reading it.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
November 4th 2012



7322 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

It certainly doesn't grab you immediately, but once you're settling in it's one of those records which just keeps on giving.

That's probably one of the reasons why I prefer their earlier stuff actually. Dear Catastrophe Waitress and The Life Pursuit are both great records but don't have anything like the same longevity imo.


KILL
October 2nd 2013



71087 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i'm able to appreciate happy music so much more now omg whats happenin to me

demigod!
October 2nd 2013



44062 Comments


gayest fucking band but this might be good cuz 90s indie rules

Digging: Failure - Magnified

KILL
October 2nd 2013



71087 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i used to think this was the queefest thing ever but now it makes me dance in a gay way oh well i guess i'm pussyin out

demigod!
October 2nd 2013



44062 Comments


shame dude next you'll be jamming 80's yes and genesis

KILL
October 2nd 2013



71087 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

dude at this rate i'll be blowing dudes next



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