Belle and Sebastian Deliver a Full Dose of Summer Sunshine

Belle and Sebastian | What To Look For In Summer | (Matador)
4 1/2 out of Five Stars

Both creative and quirky to a maximum degree, Scotland’s Belle and Sebastian have been an exceptionally inventive band since their founding in Glasgow just over 25 years ago. A group that appreciates the possibilities that come courtesy of an endless array of extraordinarily melodic melodies, rich, robust arrangements and a tuneful approach in general, they’ve released eleven albums, any number of EPs, and have never failed to make a decisive  impact all along the way. Taking their name from a short story the band’s Stuart Murdoch once wrote based  on the French novel Belle et Sébastien, the story of a six-year-old boy and his dog, the band struck gold early on with their seminal effort Tigermilk, an album which led to a string of other critically acclaimed offerings — If You’re Feeling Sinister, The Lazy Line Painter Jane EP and The Boy with the Arab Strap, among them. The band’s line-up still remains steady — Murdock (vocals, guitar, keyboardist), Stevie Jackson (guitar, vocals, piano), Sarah Martin (vocals, violin, guitar, flute, keyboards, recorder, percussion), Chris Geddes (keyboards, piano, percussion), Richard Colburn (drums, percussion), Bobby Kildea (guitar, bass), and Dave McGowan (bass, keyboards, guitar) — one reason why Belle and Sebastian have evolved into the superb band they remain today.

Evidence of that evolution shines through What To Look For In Summer, an expansive live record boasting 23 tracks spread over two discs. A perfect primer for those unawares, but mostly a real reward for their longtime devotees, it includes a terrific overview of the Belles’ career from early on, while also providing an adroit demonstration of how their concerts recreate the sumptuous sounds of their studio recordings. An enthusiastic audience affirms their status as fan favorites — the album was recorded at various locales here and abroad — and given the elaborate arrangements, often augmented by both strings and brass, the crowd’s appreciation isn’t unexpected. That’s apparent even early on given the sweep and sonics of songs such as “Dirty Dream #2” and “Wrapped Up In Books,” the effusive yet ornate “Step Into My Office, Baby,” the flourish and finesse that accompanies “ I Can See Your Future,” and the pure pop pageantry of “The Fox in the Snow” and “If You’re Feeling Sinister.”  It would be a challenge to name another album with the same level of richness and revelry shared here.

Notably, the band’s stage patter is effusive as well. Despite their attention to detail and the precision that they apply to their craft, they’re as self-effacing as they are assured, adding more than a hint of entertainment and enlightenment to the proceedings overall.

At their best, live albums serve to encapsulate a career. In this case however, What To Look For In Summer offers something more, an actual elevation to the accomplishment. Look… and listen. Summer is an album for all seasons.

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