Review Summary: Belle and Sebastian prove themselves to be essential once again, releasing a classic EP with potentially two more on the horizon.
As a casual fan of Belle and Sebastian, I’ve had the luxury of picking and choosing the moments in their discography that matter to me. Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance
felt anything but necessary, and when you factor in the lukewarm reception of Write About Love
, it’s really been about a decade since the band has truly felt relevant
. Stuart Murdoch must have felt the stagnancy setting in as well, stating in an interview with Rolling Stone that he felt like the band has lately been “treading water”, and opted for a nod to their earlier selves by once again releasing a string of three EPs to shake things up - this time titled How to Solve Our Human Problems
. In all honesty, Belle and Sebastian may never be the apple of the hipster market’s eye quite like they were early in the millennium, but the first installment in this new series re-establishes them as a force to be reckoned with in modern indie, and the trilogy as a project very much worth following into the early months of 2018.
This five song EP is so warm, inclusive, and serene. Its overall tone and vibe reminds me of Broken Social Scene's Hug of Thunder
, only an opposite reflection musically; expressing itself with eloquence and reservation as opposed to overt grandiosity and celebration. It's political but rarely preachy (the closest they come in a shot at racial supremacy in ‘The Girl Doesn’t Get It’), and features stunning musical arrangements like the Destroyer-esque ‘We Were Beautiful’ – a song that bustles with a humble but urgent percussive energy, all of which culminates in the most satisfying chorus of the extended play. The whole album is incredibly smooth, and the alternating male/female vocals make this feel like the score to some romantic indie flick. It doesn’t get any lusher than the lullaby-like ‘Fickle Season’, which features Sarah Martin’s gorgeous vocals and is rounded out with strings and a pan flute. It’s the perfect epicenter to How to Solve Our Human Problems, Pt. 1
, capturing the gentle glow of this record in four blissful minutes. The opening track ‘Sweet Dew Lee’ may very well top everything though, gradually enveloping listeners with its dreamy guitars and classical pianos as it glides towards a spacey, synth-laden midsection replete with Murdoch’s unbelievably soothing self-harmonizing chorus. ‘Everything Is Now’ feels precisely in its right place as the closer, too, serving as an extended outro consisting primarily of instrumental components (flutes, a clap-like percussion element, and electric guitars whose intensity escalates as the song progresses) before resolving itself with a chanted, hymnal-like repetition of the song’s title. Every song on How to Solve Our Human Problems, Pt. 1
is diverse enough from its counterparts to be immediately recognizable, and they’re all stunning, memorable moments. From a band that has been as up-and-down throughout its recent career as Belle and Sebastian, you simply can’t ask for a more pleasant surprise.
The first EP of How to Solve Our Human Problems
marks a noticeable uptick in maturity and creativity for the band, and should certainly pique interest for the second and third installments as they arrive in 2018. This may actually be my favorite Belle and Sebastian release, topping even The Boy With the Arab Strap
, sheerly because of how exquisite everything sounds. It is sleek and placid yet never predictable, weaving its way through several different indie-pop and electronic stylings without ever once repeating itself. The art of the extended play may be lost nowadays, but you would be hard pressed to find a more aesthetically pleasing twenty-seven minutes of indie-pop than what Belle and Sebastian supply here. If they’ve been treading water for the last ten years, then How to Solve Our Human Problems, Pt. 1
is the sound of them emerging – refreshed, invigorated, and ready to return to the hearts and ears of fans across the world.