Belle and Sebastian’s new album is the latest in a series of unlikely film soundtracks. As with Badly Drawn Boy‘s About a Boy, it’s not because the music isn’t suitable, but because it’s difficult to imagine some artists knuckling down to the demands of the American film industry. With the retiring (not to say reclusive), enigmatic and single-minded Stuart Murdoch et al it’s damn near impossible. But as the sleeve notes to Storytelling reveal, some band members admired Director Todd Solondz’s work and they trotted off to New York.
The experience doesn’t seem to have been too painful (even if only six minutes of their music actually wound up in the film) and has revealed a new and utterly charming musical style – dreamlike, delicate and very atmospheric.
Piano notes drop like rain, harmonica and guitars combine with strings to give a retro Burt Bacharach feel (on a piece with the wholly un-Bacharach-like title Fuck This Shit), trumpet and harp weave a magical tapestry.
The album consists of short instrumentals, most only just over two minutes long, interspersed with snippets of dialogue from the film (which of course don’t mean a lot if you haven’t seen it) and some great new songs.
Black and While Unite is a classic B&S ballad. Storytelling, an upbeat duet written as an ode to the film’s director, was chosen for the closing credits of the film. The splendidly titled I Don’t Want to Play Football has every quirk of early Murdoch classics and it’s just a shame it’s less than a minute long. Stand-out track Wandering Alone has an engaging Latin rhythm while Scooby Driver is reminiscent of early Beatles (or refined White Stripes), complete with retro backing vocals. I could have done with a lot more of that – again it’s only just over a minute long. Big John Shaft, the longest song on the album at 3’55”, takes us back to more familiar territory: Murdoch’s soft voice, trumpet (or is that a tenor sax?), gentle guitars and a lilting tune.
Much of this album has been developed from “what wasn’t right” for the film. It’s all quite delightful and I just wish the development had gone further. There is some great music here and we need more of it. Soon, please.