Essential New Music: Belle And Sebastian’s “The BBC Sessions”

Nothing golden can stay, but from 1996 to 2001, Belle And Sebastian were bronzed gods of indie pop. Stuart Murdoch’s troupe was above it all: immune to such mundane concerns as interviews and photo shoots, imbued with their own creation myth at Glasgow’s Stow College and so peerless that people forgot about the Smiths for a while. So it’s with some nostalgia that The BBC Sessions—live in-studio performances of songs mostly culled from the group’s first three albums—arrives as a snapshot of the years when B&S ruled the school. Among the highlights here are the spare, narrative-style (and homosexually suggestive) “The State I Am In” and “The Stars Of Track And Field,” with Murdoch’s storytelling vocals finely attuned to the rhythm of guitarist Stevie Jackson’s reverb and jangle. The band rarely strays from the album versions of songs (sometimes to a frustrating degree; would it have killed B&S to record a version of “Sleep The Clock Around” without the annoyingly long fade-in?), but such faithful rendering doesn’t make the material predictable; rather, it shows the band at the top of its delicate game. Bonus material: Four unreleased tracks recorded in 2001 are added to the canon. They’re historically important as the last songs to feature singer/cellist Isobel Campbell, who provides lead vocals to the wonderfully melancholy “Nothing In The Silence,” but the remainder don’t live up to the promise of clever titles such as “(My Girl’s Got) Miraculous Technique.” Initial copies of The BBC Sessions contain an 11-song bonus disc of a 2001 Christmas concert in Belfast.

—Matthew Fritch