Wednesday, July 18, 2007

a week in EPs day #3: belle & sebastian - i'm waking up to us

you couldn't possibly expect me to go through great EPs without hitting up any from b&s, could you? i could write a week of belle & sebastian EPs, and have stiff competition for the 5 that i pick! these guys are way too prolific, and it's next to impossible to pick one EP from the 12-15 they have and call it their best. but i have done so with i'm waking up to us, and i will defend my choice to the death.

belle & sebastian EPs have either three or four songs, making them much shorter than your average EP, but b&s never really intended their EPs to be used in the same way that most bands do. for belle & sebastian, EPs aren't a midway point, or an experimental departure - EPs are a few songs that they've written for fun (and perhaps to make a quick buck). regardless of their motivations, these EPs are literally a treasure trove of great songs that, until the release of push barman to open old wounds, had a very small audience. thanks to matador's brillance, seven of belle & sebastian's best EPs are available all together, including the inestimably awesome i'm waking up to us.

i'm waking up to us does not have belle & sebastian's best song - that honor goes to sing jonathan david, with "the loneliness of a middle distance runner." i'm waking up to us does not have belle & sebastian's boldest works - that song is "your cover's blown" on books. what i'm waking up to us does have is the most solid twelve minutes of music belle & sebastian have ever written - "i'm waking up to us," "i love my car," and "marx & engels." all three songs have the everpresent wistfulness that we've come to know and love about the scottish neo-folksters, the unredeemed pessimism of stuart murdoch's lyrics coupled with the ironic cheerfulness of belle & sebastian's musicmakers. from the opening verse, we are treated to a soliloquy of loneliness and unappreciation, those wistful lines "i need someone to take some joy / in something i've done." the strings that add a touch of chamber to the chamber pop are only the first in a selection of atypical instruments that b&s use throughout both this song and this EP. the winsome harmonies buttress murdoch's sung melody, which comes as no surprise, but the bassoon is an unexpected and brilliant addition, as are the brief and precise notes of the flute that flutter above the other instruments. the song is technically perfect, as most belle & sebastian songs are, and has the enviable janus effect of matching murdoch's cynical verses with uplifting music, which produces the odd result of being able to sing along to sad lyrics with a smile on the face and a bounce in the step. and even though the lyrical tone of "i'm waking up to us" is somber and regretful, a song of unpleasant discovery about a significant other, b&s shelve this outright sadness for the rest of the EP, which leads to more understandable smiles and bouncing.

leading the charge against dreariness is the first minute and a bit of "i love my car," a two-tiered instrumental that begins with a pleasing harpsichord and guitar duet before rumbling into a half-time rhythm with an all-too-brief trumpet solo, even before murdoch sings about all the love he has for his car, his cat, and the rat that lives in his floorboards and eats novelettes for sustenance. but one of the things that murdoch (with a mellow organ backing him) does not love is you, who are obviously on the cusp of deserting him. but this song, unlike so many others in the b&s catalog, does not privilege lyrics - the point of this song is the wonderful, amazing, inestimably great jazzy bit at the end of the song, which is kicked off by the sound of a car chugging away. there's a ukulele (i think) and the return of the trumpet, but the clarinet solo steals the show. along with the accordion, i think the clarinet is a much-too-ignored instrument, and i would love this song just for its solo.

and, finally, this brief EP is rounded out with "marx and engels," another in a long line of murdoch songs about unrequited love - what sets this girl apart is that she's a pinko communist. this is primarily a piano and guitar song, but it doesn't feel stripped down, even after the orchestral abundance of "i'm waking up to us" and "i love my car." a nice treat of this song is sarah martin's quietly sung verse, underlying murdoch's second, with only a few distinguishable words, the most notable being "bourgeois." her voice, so rarely heard, is especially pleasing here, and adds an unanticipated depth to this simple song, so that i'm waking up to us leaves the listener with a smiling yet resigned happiness, an effect which is absolutely furthered by murdoch's last acapella verses as the song fades into silence.

belle & sebastian - "i'm waking up to us," "i love my car"

buy push barman to open old wounds here.

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