A Winning Formula 

Belle & Sebastian + New Pornographers

After nearly a decade as unlikely pop darlings, virtually anything that could be said about Belle & Sebastian has been repeated ad nauseum.

There's the mythology/history—that the band started out as a school project (which explains the crappy recording of their first great albums) before catching fire as pop saviors. There's the fact that they gave fans of the dying twee movement something to latch onto once Beat Happening began to wear out their three-chord welcome. There's the rapid shifts in sound, the jocking of cheeky 1970s folk-pop and twinges of blue-eyed soul, the weirdly religious lyrical underpinnings, the relationship between leader Stuart Murdoch and cellist Isobel Campbell, etc., etc.

Then there's also the undeniable fact that, for a band that frequently reaches pop perfection, their output has been terribly uneven—so much so that it can be difficult to get excited about a new release until you actually hear it, and even then it could go either way (like their new album, The Life Pursuit, which is, you know, pretty good).

But, if you're reading this, you're probably already a Belle & Sebastian fan, and you probably already know all of the above. They're touring with the New Pornographers, who are a great band, but also leave a writer grasping at straws for a new angle.

So what else is left to say about them? Stumped, and with 550 fresh, hot, new words to turn in about one or both bands, I turned to a trusted friend for help. Here's how that unfolded:

Me: If you had to write 550 words about Belle & Sebastian, what would you say?

Friend: I'd say, "Belle & Sebastian blew my mind when I didn't know anything about the late '70s Bacharach-inspired folk pop, and then their second album had like one good song on it, and then they flat-out sucked for about five years, but ever since Dear Catastrophe Waitress [their incredible 2003 "comeback"] came out my wife started listening to them more than she listens to me, and I guess I like them again, but only because I want my wife to occasionally acknowledge my existence. I love her so much! WHEN WILL THAT LOVE BE RETURNED?"

Me: Would your answer be different if you knew they were playing with the New Pornographers?

Friend: Well, since I did know they were playing with New Pornographers, I guess not. I mean, what can you say about them other than, "Hey, they're pretty good. Have you heard this shit? It's pretty good."

Me: I know. I should have thought about that before I agreed to this story.

Friend: Yeah. It's only fun to write about good music when you have at least a couple reservations about the band.

Me: It's more fun to write about stuff you hate.

Friend: It's even most fun to write about stuff you don't give a shit one way or the other about. So you can write about whatever the hell you want.

Me: I think this might be one of THOSE music features.

Friend: AWESOME. Remember: anecdote from late teens/early 20s, obscure high-culture reference, dick joke.

Me: That's a winning formula.

Friend: Like mother's milk, semen, and Nestlé Quik.

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