In 1997, Stuart David, a novelist and then a member of Belle and Sebastian (he left in 2000 to form the band Looper), published. Ink Polaroids, a collection of short stories capturing scenes from the band’s life. These prose vignettes, described by the author as “pen pictures”, referred to the momentary quality of a speed skating film.
Although David left the band in 2000, photography remained an important part of Belle and Sebastian’s creative output. The concept behind the new album speaks directly to the reverence for the art form implied by the covers of their previous releases. Front view of Late designers shows a striped tie wearing Jessops employee holding up a fresh print in a monochrome dark room. Problematizing ideas, whether abstract or concrete, seems to draw the magic of visual aesthetics. In that sense, the album sounds like David’s book. Each track is a short story, titles suggesting narratives rather than simply snapshots of mood. But as with David Ink Polaroidsthe stories are adapted from certain images, drawing inspiration from childhood memories, modern problems and spirituality.
‘So In The Moment’ expands on the concept and cover Late designers, the Scottish septet’s twelfth album. Although it celebrates modernity, there is a hint of nostalgia, of prematurity. “I wanna jump in like Paul McCartney and Wings,” Stevie Jackson sings. The swinging harmonies of the song bring to mind The Beach Boys and even Macca himself. With a title that seems to nod to the Fab Four’s delicious 1963 hit, “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” “Will I Tell You a Secret” sounds all the more sad. Featuring harpsichord, soft percussion and acoustic guitar, it combines the folk sensibility of Cat Stevens’ “The Wind” with a slightly elegant baroque pop feel.
True to its title, the album contains unused material from the session that found its way onto the band’s previous record, A bit of the former. The two share an upbeat vibe and lyrical content that suggests a manual tone that survives. Yet the new work has a distinct pop appeal.
Belle and Sebastian apply their songwriting skills by straddling the line between sophisticated indie pop and the simple cheerfulness of mainstream radio hit numbers (‘I Don’t Know What You See in Me’). There are unconscious references to older charts. “When the Cynics Stare Back From the Wall” suggests Mike Oldfield’s “Moonlight Shadow”. ‘When We Were Very Young’ evokes the latest album from fellow Glaswegians Simple Minds.
At the same time, melodically, they explore different dimensions of folk music. While most songs inevitably evoke a mid-century western revival, the chorus of ‘Juliet Naked’ evokes the melancholy of Slavic folk songs, perhaps either Ukrainian or Russian. Eastern European people may well have had an influence. Previously, the band released the single ‘If They’re Shooting At You’, which is about the current war. The attached video shows a series of photos taken by citizen journalists in different locations in occupied Ukraine.
Despite being lighter musically, Late designers maintains the trajectory set by previous albums. Like ‘A Bit of Previous’ and its predecessors, it comes from thoughtful observation. The Hakuna-Matata vibe of the title track is countered with lyrics that echo ‘Life Is Complicated’ by The Kinks. Stuart Murdoch lists a series of routine tasks performed by an unnamed protagonist, reminding us that there is always more to life than meets the eye – a fact that can be both terrifying and exciting.