When Belle and Sebastian parted ways with Matador Records and joined forces with Rough Trade to release Dear Catastrophe Waitress a few years ago, it was like a dagger through the heart of American indie rock. All through the mid-to-late 90s, when Matador was releasing landmark recordings by Pavement, Superchunk, Yo La Tengo and a ton of other bands loved by khaki-wearing college radio DJs, Belle and Sebastian were the only band keeping the label from being a styleless, sexless mess. Their European sensibilities stood in stark contrast to the rest of the label, which was at the forefront of a distinctly American movement that didn’t really have the legs we thought it would. And so when they left, things didn’t feel quite right.
For whatever reason, though, they’ve reunited with their old pals over at Matador to release their new LP, The Life Pursuit. You may have heard some folks mention that it’s a “return to form” for the band, that it’s reminiscent of their older, more subdued material. You also may have heard that it’s a full-on “party” record, heavy on soul and funk influences. In actuality, it’s probably somewhere in between. There’s less of a focus on off-the-wall arrangements than there was on Dear Catastrophe, with Stuart Murdoch and the gang scaling things back to a basic rock setup for most of the disc. With a more straightforward approach, greater attention can be paid to Murdoch’s funny, touching stories about eccentric dreamers and troubled scenesters. Take, for instance, ‘Funny Little Frog’ (in which our author rhymes “poet” with “throat” by dutifully pronouncing it “throw-it”), a lighthearted, almost hokey thank-you letter to a lover who turns out to be a figment of the narrator’s imagination. Categorize it however you want, it makes no difference. They’re writing some of the best songs of their career, and it’s great to have ‘em back where they belong.