Belle & Sebastian - EP Series Review
Belle & Sebastian - 'How To Solve Our Human Problems' EP Series Review - The unashamed pop of Belle & Sebastian’s 'How To Solve Our Human Problems' EP series showcases a reimagination of the genre. “My capacity to be delighted by pop music has not waned,” Stuart Murdoch–lead singer, songwriter, pianist, and guitarist of the band–says. Moving away from the defining folk pop of their earlier records, How To Solve Our Human Problems is a complex, collaborative, and coherent album, encapsulating a state of being over anything else.
Opening the album, ‘Sweet Dew Lee’ is an episodic 6-minute adventure, with notes of synths, a continuous dream-pop-esque guitar hook enveloping Stuart Murdoch’s emotive crooning. Second track ‘We Were Beautiful’ has enjoyed plentiful airplay on BBC 6Music, and for good reason. It’s a catchy track, with a hook-filled chorus and licks of brass sections, and is a brazen pop single. Despite its melancholic, wistful lyrics, the track remains upbeat, Stuart Murdoch’s smooth vocal leading the track. Third track ‘Fickle Season’ debuts the vocals of Sarah Martin, on this record, driven with her soft voice and a tumbling, muted arpeggio.
As each EP bleeds into the other, we are offered with more danceable tracks, ‘The Girl Doesn’t Get It’ a disco-tinged lyrically barbed track, clearly about Theresa May. ‘Show Me The Sun’ is another track suited for an indie disco (if you’ll excuse the terrible joke, I’d probably recommend The Divine Comedy’s), with disjointed yet completely fluid verses; playing with acapella and heavy bass, the song opens the second third of the record expertly. ‘I’ll Be Your Pilot’ is another standout track, with tropical-tinged acoustic guitar and cheerful lyrics.
As we move into the third EP, the diverse emotional spectrum of the previous two releases isn’t forgotten. Opener ‘Poor Boy’ has a distinct groove, with sparks of synth notes and tight percussion. The song presents itself as a duet, a cohesive discussion between two characters. ‘Too Many Tears’ rides on an energetic riff, a tale of loneliness and unrequited feelings, is delectably incongruous with its melody. The separation of lyrics and melody in this last EP is definitely a running theme; its follower ‘There Is An Everlasting Song’ is muted and acoustic, but tells a story of the the cyclical nature of life. Concluder ‘Best Friend’ has a rather monumental task, summarising a record of such phenomenal reach and emotional plain, and while it is nothing alarmingly exceptional, the track’s lyrical tale of modern love truly is the best thing Belle & Sebastian could have chosen to end on.
Stuart Murdoch describes the creation of this EP series with: “We’d made a couple of LPs, Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, within the space of six months,” Murdoch says of the early days of the band’s career, and how that fed into their decision-making this time. “I thought somebody was going to take the keys to the studio away, and I wanted to record as many songs as I could. I remembered the Smiths talking about how important non-album singles were to them, so we thought: ‘Why don’t we record a bunch of songs and then pick three A-sides and rally around those.” The results were the EPs Dog on Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light EPs.
For the three sleeves, the group issued a call to fans to come to be photographed by Murdoch at a studio in Belsize Park in north London. Fifty were selected, and all those photographed were also recorded answering the question: “How do you solve your human problems?”
These days, Murdoch accepts, the band’s relationship with their fans is “very comfortable.” They’re now seeing a second generation – the children of their original fans, kids who’ve found them as the internet has opened up the whole of pop history. But in the past few years, he has started thinking about his own responsibilities to those fans. “I do feel it’s not just about the music anymore, and it shouldn’t be. You have this platform to spread good vibrations. Life is short! What are we doing here? Are we becoming better people?”
In regards to How To Solve Our Human Problems, I’m not sure this EP series quite answers that, but I don’t think that was, by any stretch, the point. A diverse, momentary, and sonically mature record, How To Solve Our Human Problems challenges and compliments human emotion, aging, and nature. A thoroughly adventurous record, and a successful one at that. 9/10
'How To Solve Our Human Problems' is out on Matador Records on the 16th of February