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CD of The Week

Week of 1/16/23

    Belle and Sebastian - Late Developers (Matador)

    Just over eight months after the release of their album A Bit of PreviousBelle and Sebastian has dropped Late Developers as a surprise treat for fans, only released days after it was announced. Late Developers was recorded in their same refurbished Glasgow rehearsal space during the sessions that churned out ‚ĶPrevious. But these are not throwaway songs too weak for the album. In fact, they prove to be even greater and they work perfectly as a second record rather than an overwhelming double album.

    Late Developers is truly an honest man’s recount of Belle and Sebastian’s musical evolution. Like most prolific songwriters, lead singer Stuart Murdoch was penning lyrics and music before his band’s inception. The simple, strummy “When the Cynics Stare Back from the Wall” was conceived in 1994 while Murdoch was working through chronic fatigue syndrome and captures the delightfully graceful stripped-down singer-songwriter aspects in their early recordings (and features Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell). Sarah Martin takes lead on the classic-sounding B&S clap-along, tambourine-driven frolic of “Give a Little Time.”

    The light rolling melody of “Will I Tell You a Secret” feels like a song sketch meant to emanate from an old-fashioned wind-up music box while still being effortlessly catchy. It was written during the Dear Catastrophe Waitress period, bridging the gap between the naively twee and dance-y twee eras. Around that same time, lead guitarist Stevie Jackson’s songs were growing in complexity, and the upbeat, chugging and driving “So in the Moment” fits right in as one of his best. The album-ending title track bears similarity to The Go Team!’s “World Remember Me Now” in genuine jubilance and could also have been recorded during the Waitress or Life Pursuit sessions.

    Danceability has always been at the core of their songwriting style. Without it, there would have never been the numerous Belle and Sebastian dance parties around the city (whatever happened to those?), but it was only a matter of time before the disco-funk style came to the surface in the mid-00s. On Late Developers, both “When You’re Not with Me” and “Do You Follow” follow up in this sly disco style, albeit, not quite as in-your-face. On the other hand, lead single “I Don’t Know What You See in Me” relies on smooth, washing waves of synth. It doesn’t quite *exactly* sound like them (it has a definite New Pornographers quality), but that’s a good thing. It is the first time they shared a co-writing credit with an outsider: Glasgow’s electro-dance composer Peter “Wuh Oh” Ferguson.

    So where does that bring us? Does this record of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ alternate retrospective tracks offer a hint to the future? Will the next album be 100% synth and auto-tune? While that is not entirely without possibility, fans may have to relish this album for the foreseeable future. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Murdoch admitted “I think, in a sense, putting these two LPs out might be the last thing we’ll do for a while.” He added that the band is not over, and never will be, but personal health and other projects need dedicated attention. Until we meet again out on the dance floor, we’ll have to enjoy what’s in the now.
    Review by Shepard Ritzen

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