Out There

Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian
Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant
(Matador Records)

On their three previous albums, Belle & Sebastian seemed to be answering the question: What do librarians do after hours? Every disc felt as if it had been released posthumously, long enough after the band's demise that a cult audience could emerge and cherish each softly strummed guitar chord and droll turn of phrase. The Korn kids would loathe Belle & Sebastian, if they even had the faintest idea such a group existed. And it's not just because the Glasgow collective, led by Stuart Murdoch, makes the frailest folk rock this side of Nick Drake's bones. Or even that it writes songs about being sexually abused as a child with casual indifference. The members of Belle & Sebastian, for one thing, don't want to be rock stars. They go out of their way to be enigmatic--publicity photos of the group rarely feature any of the band's members, and Murdoch has hardly ever been photographed. Plus, with live performances few and far between, there's very little chance of media oversaturation.

Its fourth album--the typically sensitive, delicate, and fey Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant--pretty much sticks close to the personal and musical ground of its predecessors. (For those scoring at home, or even if you're alone, that would be 1996's Tigermilk and If You're Feeling Sinister, and 1998's The Boy with the Arab Strap.) Despite the dismal, dreary folk of "Beyond the Sunrise," the simplicity of the songs on Fold Your Hands Child is charming. Well, melodically, at least: Lyrically, this band raids its seven members' diaries for some prime and revealing info. It can be a bit much at times, bringing forth nervous laughter and averted eyes. But even though you don't want to hear more, you have to.

Parts of Fold Your Hands Child drift hauntingly across the landscapes. For example, the Bacharachian horns that blow in during the latter half of "I Fought in a War" lend the song, a recollection of love on the battlefield, the heartbreak beat it summons. Other times Murdoch falls back on handclap rhythms and jangly pop. And despite "Nice Day for a Sulk," a song that is swathed in the album's most sunny melody, of course, and the sadness that permeates "The Chalet Lines," a tune about rape on which Murdoch laments, "She asks me why I don't tell the law / But what's the fucking point of it all?", Fold Your Hands Child is hopeful. Look no further than the closing "There's Too Much Love," an overload of joy that tosses in swirling strings, pounding piano, and angelic backing voices for an Eliza Doolittle-style reverie: "I can dance all night," Murdoch swells. Amen.

Michael Gallucci

 
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