Everything the new Woodstock generation's rape rock is -- macho, hateful, and ugly -- Belle and Sebastian isn't. The Scottish group is sensitive, delicate, and fey. The Korn kids would loathe Belle and Sebastian. And it's not just because the Glasgow collective, led by Stuart Murdoch, makes the frailest folk rock this side of Nick Drake's bones. Or even because it writes songs about being sexually abused as a child with casual indifference. The members of Belle and Sebastian, for one thing, don't want to be rock stars; they even go out of their way to be enigmatic (publicity photos of the group rarely actually feature the band). Murdoch has hardly been photographed, and with live performances few and far between, there's very little chance of media oversaturation.
Aside from taking the lead for this year's Fiona Apple Award for Pointlessly Long Album Title, its fourth album, the typically sensitive, delicate, and fey Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, pretty much sticks close to the personal and musical ground of its predecessors. Despite the dismal, dreary folk of "Beyond the Sunrise," the simplicity of the songs on Fold Your Hands (melodically, at least; lyrically, this band raids its seven members' diaries for some prime and revealing info) is charming.
Parts of Fold Your Hands Child even drift hauntingly across their sonic landscapes. The Bacharachian horns that blow in during the latter half of "I Fought in a War" lend the song, a recollection of love on the battlefield, the heartbreak beat it summons. Other times Murdoch falls back on handclap rhythms and jangly pop. And despite "Nice Day for a Sulk," a song which is swathed in the album's most sunny melody, of course, and the sadness that permeates "The Chalet Lines," a tune about rape on which Murdoch laments, "She asks me why I don't tell the law/But what's the fucking point of it all?", Fold Your Hands Child is hopeful. Look no further than the closing "There's Too Much Love," an overload of joy that tosses in swirling strings, pounding piano, and angelic backing voices for an Eliza Doolittle-style reverie: "I can dance all night," Murdoch swells. Amen. --