The Canon: Belle & Sebastian


We’ve been worried about Belle & Sebastian. One of indie rock’s undisputed classics, they’ve given us a few scares. Was the end near when cellist/keyboardist and backing-vocals staple Isobel Campbell left the band in 2002? And how about founder and songwriter Stuart Murdoch’s new God Help the Girl project, which came out last year? Were Belle & Sebastian forsaking us?

As it turns out, they weren’t. NME reports that Murdoch and co., who haven’t released a full-length since 2006’s

, are back to writing new songs and plan to record soon in Los Angeles. So, in their honor (and perhaps to speed them on their way), we’ve put together our own, personal canon of favorite B&S tracks. Listen to the playlist and let us know what we missed after the jump.

1. “The State I’m In” (, 1996)

As the first track on B&S’s debut album, “The State I’m In” plays like a kind of mission statement: It’s narrative and soft-spoken, featuring a Catholic’s obsession with sin and salvation, and just a hint of Campbell’s ethereal backing vocals.

2. “The Stars of Track and Field” (, 1996)

It’s always the quiet guys who turn out to be the pervs. For all his twee lisping, Murdoch was all about kink on the band’s second full-length, If You’re Feeling Sinister. “The Stars of Track and Field,” sung barely above a whisper, made elliptical reference to “a boy who went through one of your sessions” and offered the revelation, “She never needed anyone to get around the track/But when she’s on her back, she had the knowledge to get into college.”

3. “If You’re Feeling Sinister” (If You’re Feeling Sinister, 1996) If “The State I’m In” introduced Murdoch’s tenuous relationship to Catholicism, “If You’re Feeling Sinister” consummated it. This tale of religious oddballs (including, most memorably Hilary “into S&M and Bible studies/Not everybody’s cup of tea, she would admit to me”), manages to incorporate the ecstatic St. Theresa, a backing track of laughing children on a playground and a delicate, fast-paced, lighthearted guitar riff. Its unforgettable kicker? “If you are feeling sinister/Go off and see a minister/Chances are you’ll probably feel better/If you stayed and played with yourself.”

4. “Dog on Wheels” ( EP, 1997)

An early B&S rarity that eventually landed the EP it deserved, “Dog on Wheels” references (but doesn’t rip off) Flamenco, making impressive use of showy brass instruments. Are Murdoch’s warbled lyrics really about a disabled dog or childhood crush? You decide.

5. “Lazy Line Painter Jane” ( EP, 1997)

Most 20th-century B&S tracks were paeans to quiet chaos. “Lazy Line Painter Jane,” by contrast, is a full-on, six-minute production number filled out by hand claps, a killer backbeat, otherworldly keyboards, and, most importantly, the absolutely gigantic guest vocals of Monica Queen.

6. “Dirty Dream Number Two” (, 1998)

No one would begrudge you for labeling B&S Freudian. So, how do you interpret the catchy, brassy neurosis of the two dirty dreams Murdoch relates? “A whole lot of fun with a comedian” followed by a vision where “You couldn’t see her face, but you saw everything else”? If nothing else, it all makes for some mighty pensive foot-stomping.

7. “The Boy with the Arab Strap” (The Boy with the Arab Strap, 1998) Said to be a joking reference to fellow Glaswegian group Arab Strap, the song doesn’t quite delve into its titular sexual device. What stands out here are the snatches of memory: prison food, the minicab driver, a mysterious older sister “as pure as the cold driven snow.” There’s something here about loneliness and distance, and it all rolls along on jaunty keyboards, like a bus making good time, until its sad, abrupt fadeout.

8. “Legal Man” ( EP, 2000)

Another production number, “Legal Man,” with its psychedelic riffs and dissipated vocals, sounds like it belongs in the party scene of a ’60s acid film. “Get out of the city and into the sunshine!/Get out of the office and into the springtime!”

9. “If She Wants Me” (, 2003)

Could B&S survive without the beloved Campbell, who left the band in 2002 to pursue other projects? Dear Catastrophe Waitress proved that Murdoch would be just fine. And while other tracks (“Step Into My Office, Baby”; “Wrapped Up in Books”) may have been equally strong, “If She Wants Me” is the one that just wouldn’t quit. The chorus: “If I could do just one near-perfect thing, I’d be happy/They’d write it on my grave or when they scattered my ashes/On second thought, I’d rather stick around and be there with my best friend/If she wants me.” Perfect.

10. “The Blues Are Still Blue” (The Life Pursuit, 2006) A real, rollicking rock song from B&S? As hard as it is to believe, that’s what Murdoch offered on him most recent album, The Life Pursuit. So what if this hummable single is nominally about doing laundry?

Belle & Sebastian: The Canon