How to Solve Our Human Problems, Part 1 (a really dumb album title) is the first in a three-part EP series to be released over a three-month timespan by Glasgow, Scotland’s sometimes-boring-as-hell indie darlings, Belle and Sebastian, in what looks to be a bold marketing gimmick to return them to their mid-to-late-1990s popularity. Following their successful full lengths Tigermilk (stupid title) and If You’re Feeling Sinister (a better title) in 1996, Belle and Sebastian were on a creative roll that produced three 1997 EPs, Dog on Wheels (dumb title), Lazy Line Painter Jane (dumber title), and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light (dumbest title ever), all of which were lauded by critics and were loved by their fans. Like the 1990s EPs, these new ones will feature artsy black & white photos of their butt-ugly fans on the covers.
The record starts off with Stevie Jackson and Stuart Murdoch singing a duet together called “Sweet Dew Lee.” This odd pairing makes for a flat opening as the song isn’t all that wonderful, actually it sounds pretty horrible. Such a dreadful choice for an opener. They pick it up, though, with a bright, solid pop number with a skipping drumbeat, the EP’s single, “We Were Beautiful.” Murdoch, who generally sings lead on the majority of the band’s material, is solely on lead vocal duty on this one, which makes this song more focused. It features classic B&S trappings such as multi-layered instrumentation, pianos, horns, harmonizing backing vocals and tasty bass lines, all mixed to perfection without pulling focus away from the main idea – the rhythm and the lyrics.
“We Were Beautiful” brings back the simple yet classic Belle and Sebastian sound, but this time it’s fused with some modernity in the form of advances in recording technology. Most would have to admit this song as well as the entire production on the EP strikes a decent balance between classic, raw B&S and modern recording techniques. It has been 20 years after all, you have to progress out of the super-low-fi arena at some point, and B&S have before, much to the chagrin of some of their more elitist fan base.
The best track on this five-song EP is the country-tinged “Fickle Season,” emoted passionately, with deliberately breathy vocals, by Sarah Martin. Besides “We Were Beautiful” and “Fickle Season” the other three songs on this EP miss the mark completely. They’re filler songs. Never put filler on an EP. An EP is too short for filler. Belle and Sebastian have two more EPs coming out soon, so this is only strike one. No big deal.
Belle and Sebastian
How To Solve Our Human Problems, Part 1