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Belle and Sebastian maintain a familiar polarity in new record Late Developers

"Late Developers"

Release date: 13 January 2023
Belle And Sebastian Late Developers
13 January 2023, 14:00 Written by René Cobar

One thing is sure: Belle and Sebastian enjoy making intricate music, come what may.

Perhaps this is why they've often been seen as a musicians' band, not the average listener's cup of tea. This hypothesis is tested in their latest record, Late Developers; a masterclass in composition that thrives in its sonic subtleties but may again miss the mark for general audiences.

For instance, a sharp ear feels almost a requirement in the opening track, "Juliet Naked," as the song's overdriven guitar sweeps across to welcome Stuart Murdoch's vocals. Murdoch's familiar voice, as it is for those who have followed the band's 27-year career, is accompanied by Sarah Martin in tucked-away harmonies which help continue to layer the song; the piece keeps a steady tempo while each sound has its flourish. That attention to detail makes the band endearing for those who appreciate production but lacks the charm of a catchy romp.

It almost gets there in tracks like "Give A Little Time" and "When You're Not With Me," which are both powered by plump bass lines that have your head bobbing for the former and swaying for the latter. There are cowbells, clackers, subtle piano keys, and much more if you immerse in these two Martin-fronted jams – they're a carnival of sounds that make it so much fun to get lost inside. These two songs are standouts on the record and exude a merry nature that is sweet and gummy.

One may argue that these songs are the group at their best, and it would be an interesting experiment to see them deliver an album strictly in the vein of these grand, festive tracks. But, for better or worse, as fluid as the group can be while in a jam, they are in style as the record ranges from ambient synth pop tracks to Americana narratives that stray from the mood, at times to a fault.

This fluidity in style, or lack of focus, has defined the band for decades, placing it both in the adoration of professional peers and in no particular bucket for casual music fans. This polarity is what Belle and Sebastian are, and is perhaps entirely to blame for the group not being a household name, as their skill set so well deserves. Late Developers is self-indulgent, majestic at times, and just another chapter in the storied history of a Scottish group that deserves mention at the table.

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