Album reviews: Belle & Sebastian | Diagrams

Belle and Sebastian in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
Belle and Sebastian in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
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OUR critics review the latest musical releases including Belle and Sebastian, Diagrams and Barbara Morrison

Belle and Sebastian

Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance


Star rating: *****

The striking cover image of a young man and woman lying alongside a pair of crutches while another woman poses with an automatic rifle in the background suggests that this record might be the point at which Glaswegian pop orchestra Belle and Sebastian finally take the most unlikely of turns and find politics. That the trio all bear model looks and are shot in Carnaby Street monochrome tells us, however, that Stuart Murdoch and Co haven’t thrown grit upon their old aesthetic just yet.

In truth, apart from the odd passing allusion – “everybody bet on the boom and got busted,” sighs Murdoch on The Cat With The Cream – there’s barely a reference to the harsh world beyond. Yet there’s the feeling that reality is gnawing at the outer fringes of their lives, that our love and literature obsessed heroes feel a greater urgency to run to keep their heads in the clouds.

Recorded in America with Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley producer Ben H Allen III, this translates breathtakingly to the music. Still unmistakably a Belle and Sebastian record, largely identified through Murdoch’s hopeful vocal sigh, the comforting familiarity of their music has been thrown aside for something new and compelling. Or as Murdoch has it on the opening Nobody’s Empire, “I clung to the past… but at the end of the night there’s a green, green light”. They explore vibrant, upbeat electro-disco on The Party Line and Enter Sylvia Plath, a vivid mariachi waltz on The Everlasting Muse and lithe New Wave on Perfect Couples. And there’s a guest appearance by Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee Penny on the sublime kitchen sink synth epic Play For Today. Easily their finest record of this millennium: cold reality is bested once more.

David Pollock

Download: The Party Line, Play For Today


Federation of the Disco Pimp


Dusty Reel Records

Star rating: ***

Written in their home city of Glasgow and recorded in New York, the latest record from Scots jazz-funk septet Federation of the Disco Pimp only rarely betrays its professed inspiration in the build-up to the Scottish independence referendum, but when it does there’s a real sense of political urgency being channelled through the raw, hard-time rhythms of James Brown’s era – most resonantly in I Love Tomorrow and its “tonight we decide / get off of the fence” holler. Elsewhere there are moody instrumentals like the title track, which call to mind Miles Davis (the album draws its title from his Live-Evil), and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City. It’s one of those records which serves best as an advert for the live show. DP

Download: I Love Tomorrow, Inamorata



Full Time Hobby

Star rating: ***

That the first track on this second album from former Tunng man Sam Genders shares its name with a Super Furry Animals album (Phantom Power) acts as an early pointer for where it’s taking us. It’s not just that Genders sounds remarkably like SFA’s singer Gruff Rhys – many of these songs emulate the group’s wayward electro-acoustic soul and their chiming, upbeat bittersweetness. There’s a light, indie-pop touch to tracks like Phantom Power, Dirty Broken Bliss and The Light And The Noise, but more common – and successful – is a cradling kind of ballad best exemplified by the sublime title track. DP

Download: Chromatics, You Can Talk to Me


Barbara Morrison

I Love You, Yes I Do

Savant SCD 2136

Star rating: ****

The soulful American singer and regular visitor to Edinburgh during Jazz Festival and Fringe time teams up with a horn player who could easily be her instrumental opposite number – the soulful tenor saxophonist Houston Person – for this album, which finds her in fine form, whether she’s sassily singing the blues, swinging standards or delivering, in a pleasingly unfussy, affecting style, such ballads as And I Love Him, from the Beatles’ original, and Who Can I Turn To? Person, as anyone familiar with his bluesy sound would expect, proves an ideal musical partner and there is excellent accompaniment from Morrison’s regular trio. Alison Kerr

Download: Who Can I Turn To?


Various Artists

Favourite Scottish Songs

Greentrax Records CDGMP8016

Star rating: ****

Greentrax launches the 16th instalment in its Celtic Connections series, showcasing songs which are, 
or are becoming, the nation’s favourites. This latest collection 
begins with Sheena Wellington’s A Man’s A Man recorded at the opening of the new Holyrood Parliament, and ends with the Cast’s Auld Lang Syne, used in the film Sex And The City. The voices of Dick Gaughan, Gordeanna McCulloch, Karine Polwart, Tony Cuffe, Fiona Forbes, Davy Steele and Jim Reid are all from older Greentrax albums, and there are new recordings by Rod Paterson and Tom Laurie. But Caledonia changes slowly – of the 11 songs, five are by Robert Burns. Norman Chalmers

Download: Follow The Heron


Richard Strauss, Edgard Varèse

Ein Heldenleben, Amériques

Challenge CC72644

Star rating: *****

Richard Strauss’s tone poem Ein Heldenleben might have been better received had it not been so obviously about the composer himself. For all his later denials of self-aggrandisement, any work that quotes more than 30 times from Strauss’s own works, and that contains a movement he agreed was about his wife Pauline, was clearly intended to be quasi-autobiographical at least.

This thoughtful recording of the first version of the work, by the German Symphony Orchestra Berlin under Ingo Metzmacher, brings out both the brashness and complexity of a piece that caused outrage at its première but has since become a regular concert feature.

Edgard Varèse’s Amériques single-movement work is a pre-Gershwin cityscape, full of incident, excitement and strange instrumentation (requiring 142 musicians at first, later cut to 120). An odd work, but well worth hearing. Alexander Bryce

Download: Track 4, Ein Heldenleben, Des Helden Walstatt