CD Roundup — Belle and Sebastian and Neil Young

Belle & Sebastian sing lazily about love while Neil Young sings vividly about love and war.

Andrew Penkalski

Belle & Sebastian- Belle & Sebastian Write About Love

Label- Matador Records

 

Over the course of their 14 years together, baroque pop mainstays Belle & Sebastian have managed to cover a substantial amount of creative ground. Singer-songwriter Stuart MurdochâÄôs knack for kitsch melodies and often-absurd characters has slowly attributed to a recognizable cohesion across their collection of records.

Yet itâÄôs never been boring. While MurdochâÄôs identifiable shtick places his subdued vocals against the lightest strum of a guitar, the rolling bells and reverberating Dick Dale guitars of a song like âÄúLazy Line Painter JaneâÄù attest to their regularly ignored rock virtuosity. Too bad none of this comes through on their latest effort, âÄúBelle & Sebastian Write About Love.âÄù

The album opens with the sadly misleading âÄúI DidnâÄôt See It Coming.âÄù Female vocalist Sarah Martin sweetly delivers words that are comparatively basic for Murdoch. Lines like âÄúMake me dance, I want to surrender / your familiar arms I rememberâÄù come in a comparable vein of The Magnetic FieldsâÄô elementary love songs. Murdoch does not cleverly play with any lyrical protagonists here, but he still manages to deliver a pining track with notable sincerity. It is the only moment of earnestness on the record.

The bulk of the work demonstrates some form of apparent apathy within the groupâÄôs ringleader. There is an unshakable feeling that this was an album made out of some external expectation rather than any artistic desire by the bandâÄôs collective parts. During the albumâÄôs throwaway baby-please-donâÄôt-go track, âÄúCalculating Bimbo,âÄù MurdochâÄôs opening lines to his lover are, âÄúA lack of understanding you took for being lazy / I was just being lazy / IâÄôm even doing it now.âÄù It is difficult to believe that Murdoch wrote this line without a consciousness of its pathetic reflexivity.

While Belle & Sebastian have never been a band setting out to reinvent the wheel, they have always been creatively invested in their endeavors. Their last album, 2006âÄôs âÄúThe Life Pursuit,âÄù allowed their most notable characteristics to shine through a higher production budget. Call it inspiration or call it genuine interest. Whatever it was that allowed their last effort to flow so freely is now clearly absent.

 

1 1/2 stars (out of four)

 

Neil Young- Le Noise

Label- Reprise

 

For all intents and purposes, Neil Young is an American folk-rock musician, and saying so sounds like the most âÄúwell, duhâÄù comment anyone could make in review of his work.

His latest record, however, demands this presentation of his most archetypical tropes âÄî largely because of the intimacy explored on âÄúLe Noise.âÄù It is because there is an implication of artistic self-removal whenever a folk discussion arises. It thematically demands neutrality in the authorâÄôs examination of timely Americana. However, YoungâÄôs new LP delivers something shockingly personal âÄî an attribute missing from his recent commentary-based work on records like 2009âÄôs eco-friendly driven âÄúFork In The RoadâÄù or 2006âÄôs âÄúLiving With War.âÄù

YoungâÄôs latest collection of songs is primarily a reflection of his previous political musings. It is an assemblage of self-examination and largely based around a question heâÄôs asking himself: âÄúWhile the topics I present are pertinent, why does my voice still matter?âÄù

The record, a work appropriately simple to describe, consists of YoungâÄôs vocals over fuzzed-out strumming and little more. He is aware of this shared privacy in the aptly titled opening track âÄúWalk With Me,âÄù a song where his voice slowly becomes amplified by well-paced echoing vocals.

Yet, the album never grows overly insular. While mid-album tracks like âÄúLove And WarâÄù play on the parabolic perception of his place as an iconoclastic American songwriter, he operates as a character more so than a bleeding heart. He quietly utters, âÄúI sang for justice, and I hit a bad chord / but I still try to sing about love and war.âÄù ItâÄôs a subdued track âÄî one where his big acoustic e-string slaps underscore his quietly delivered words.

The eight-song LP doesnâÄôt overextend itself. After all, these private explorations understandably donâÄôt warrant a lengthy product. Still, YoungâÄôs latest product shows he doesnâÄôt take his legacy for granted in the slightest. If anything, he seems focused on keeping his audience involved. While his process toward this may be overly explanatory, there is still little reason to be anything less than once again enthralled.

 

3 1/2 stars (out of four)