Belle and Sebastian – What to Look for in Summer

Glasgow, Scotland’s indie/chamber pop stalwarts Belle and Sebastian did something that not many indie bands could ever pull off without looking tremendously goofy. They recorded portions of their new live record, What to Look For in Summer, in front of a throng of their super-fans while on a cruise ship. While not a greatest hits collection by any means (for instance where’s “I’m a Cuckoo”?), the 23-track release is thoughtfully put together, and represents all the eras of a band that has been around for almost 25 years. There are both indispensable fan favorites and less-celebrated deeper cuts present, but the double-album as a whole (recorded at assorted stops on their 2019 North American tour in addition to the “Boaty Weekender” cruise) is beautiful nostalgia, especially for the B&S faithful.

Modern music production in the studio, for the most part, has become so fake. This fake studio sound has trickled down to live performances as well –bands/artists with click/backing tracks, auto-tuned vocals, and pre-planned cringey stage banter have infiltrated rock and even indie rock. Many acts aim to sound perfect live, trying their best to be a carbon copy of their studio work. For one thing, that sound comes off as phony, but it’s also excruciatingly boring. Luckily, B&S don’t adhere to these unrealistic standards. They play in complete earnestness, displaying all their tiny imperfections out in the open for everyone to hear, often to the point of brilliance.

The opening track, a cute half-minute version of “The Song of the Clyde,” really pumps up the crowd. Maybe that’s because it’s a Glasgow staple and also the song of the Clyde FB Club of the Glasgow Football League. Immediately following the short opener, the album kicks into high gear with the almost E Street Band-esque “Dirty Dream Number 2.” The energy and heavy orchestration continues with “Step Into My Office, Baby,” a catchy number from one of their best LP’s, 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. A few songs later the band plays another off that same album, the ever-popular ear worm “Wrapped Up in Books.”

Further bright spots include several songs off of 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, including the title track, “Seeing Other People,” “Fox in the Snow,” and “The Boy Done Wrong Again.” There’s a very rousing live version of “Dogs on Wheels” and it just wouldn’t seem right if B&S didn’t include the iconic title track from their 1998 album, The Boy with the Arab Strap. While the song goes on for a little longer than seven and a half minutes, the band really gets into their zone, and the audience certainly doesn’t seem to mind the lengthier tune.

While there’s not much in-person live music at the moment, What to Look For in Summer brings a glimmer of hope of what will eventually come back (fingers crossed).

Belle and Sebastian
What to Look For in Summer
[Matador]