Jump to the Beat of the Party Line
Because I have next week off, I’ll be doing a lot of listening to records both old and new, so expect some activity here. And here I go continuing the idea of trusting my gut and going with the flow: the Belle and Sebastian LP is a little long for me to spend too much time on it, and the Natalie Prass is short enough and has songs I like—whether I like them as much as I think I do remains to be seen.
BELLE & SEBASTIAN – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (Matador): Much as I like them, I always considered Stuart Murdoch and his band of merry Scots to be the exemplar of everything infuriating about late-90s lo-fi cynicism: kinda snobbish, self-pitying, willfully exclusive in the pop world when their worldview is inclusive. Here they go from horn-drenched gospel to electric folk to disco with a chorus of “Jump to the beat of the party line” in the first three tracks alone. A word about that chorus: Murdoch finally stopped worrying about being a cafeteria pariah hoarding vinyl and went out and engaged the world—what good was reading all that Kafka and Plath if you’re not gonna leave the couch?—and discovered politics existed, in particular a Scottish referendum for independence that didn’t turn out how they wanted. But their politics, however blatantly worn on their collective sleeve, are necessarily mixed with the personal: among talk of bombs in the Middle East, Murdoch has the gall to ask what you’ll do “when your seven-year plan happens to someone else.” So I guess they’re still cynics at heart, but old age has softened them a bit, regardless of how much things don’t go their way. “Something good will come from nothing,” Murdoch sincerely assures, and then teases with a wry smile: “Ever had a little faith?” B PLUS (**)
NATALIE PRASS – Natalie Prass (Startime International): Give her material to Jenny Lewis, for whom Prass was a backup singer and whose voice has the spirit and spunk to lift these tracks to their potential, as a reliance on schmaltzy strings to fill the gaps of songs this Nashvilleian singer-songwriter’s too-thin pipes can’t carry to fruition brings down what otherwise might be a fine collection. I’m tempted to call this ersatz shit—and in the case of spoken-word “Reprise” or showtune closer “Is It You,” I am—but I often find myself enjoying it in its more soulful moments (like “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” or “Violently”), meaning something’s at work here, and it’s not just her Laurence Welk-for-hipsters approach—it’s that she’s carved a comfortable spot between mentor Lewis and the whimsical Feist, a place she can, for now, call all her own. And she calls it Natalie Prass. A MINUS