Updated: May 26, 2020
The first in a series by guest bloggers. Welcome and thanks to Jake Tiernan, bass player with Galway's finest Turnstiles. His choice - If You’re Feeling Sinister by Belle and Sebastian.
I first listened to this album in February, on a bus home from Dublin after a gig in the Button Factory. I had downloaded it in anticipation of this journey, as I often do before otherwise uneventful trips up and down the M6. I find those two and a half hours staring out the window at an endless stream of fields and petrol stations to be the perfect time to try out an album I’ve been recommended, or one I’ve been meaning to listen to for a while. In this case, I had stumbled across the album’s 6th track ‘Get me away from here, I’m dying’ on YouTube a couple of days previous. The artwork, a girl and a book drenched with a red hue, as well as the bleak yet inherently funny title caught my eye. I immediately fell in love with its effortlessly catchy melody and simplistic lyrics, and I hardly turned it off for the next few days. Before listening to the album I was worried that the rest of the tracks may not live up to this standard, but they more than did. So much so that, at this moment, track 6 may be my least favourite of them all. The last time I remember being so immediately infatuated with an album was when I first pulverised my eardrums with Oasis’ ‘Definitely Maybe’ at 12 years old. This was an entirely different, yet equally enlightening experience. Every track on the album is worthy of a dedication, but I’ll only mention a few.
The opener, ‘Stars of Track and Field’ sets the benchmark for the hour of serenity that follows. The chorus melody is one of the most gratifying lines I’ve ever heard, expressing wonderfully wry lyrics.
‘The Fox in the Snow’ is Belle and Sebastian at their most tranquil, and that’s saying something. The gorgeous vocals blend seamlessly with the bands trademark instrumentation. The title track ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ contains the thematic heart of the album. Fading in over the sound of school children playing, the anxious sounding guitar and bass lines lay foundations for the story of the song. Before that, a beautiful piano melody completes the scene. The lyrics are devastating, depicting different characters walking to their death, dissatisfied with where their lives have gone since those days on the schoolyard. However, the song avoids being morbid, providing a humorous outlook on the tragic situation.
The album is a serene reflection on childhood and teenage years, almost like flicking through a collection of memories, taking time to focus on particular people and places. Hearing it for the first time was a moving experience and it almost brought me to tears at the back of the Galway bound bus. Over the next few weeks it solidified its place in my heart, accompanying me most days on my walk home from college. The lyrics are simple yet clever, cynical yet emotional. The instrumentation is equal parts melancholy and uplifting. This album completely floored me. Sometimes a piece of music happens to finds you when you need it most. Notes:
I found it difficult to avoid using the word ‘serene’ repeatedly when describing this album, but it is the perfect word to sum up the dreamy reflective sound that Belle and Sebastian expertly craft. Anyway, here are some synonyms for serene: Calm, Tranquil, Peaceful, Composed, Relaxed, Untroubled, Soothing etc.
‘Me and the Major’ is a great track. However it was only recently that I realised he wasn’t singing ‘Me and the Midgets’. “Me and the midgets don’t see eye to eye” was probably my favourite line on the album up until this point.
There is a really enjoyable Pitchfork documentary on YouTube that provides an insight into the formation of the band and the writing and recording of this album.
I’ve yet to delve into any other Belle and Sebastian albums in their entirety, but they have so many great songs: ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’, ‘The Boy With the Arab Strap’ and ‘I’m a Cuckoo’ are good places to start outside of this album.
For reference, see Simon and Garfunkel.
This blog first appeared on Jake's own writing collection website Wax Lyrical