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Music / Belle and Sebastian

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None of them are actually named Sebastian.

Belle and Sebastian are a Scottish Indie Pop band who have been compared to The Smiths and Bob Dylan. They often couple sweet, soft and hummable melodies with surprisingly cynical and provocative lyrics. The band name actually has nothing to do with the names of the band members (although they used to have Isobel Campbell, a.k.a. "Belle", in the group) but comes from a 1965 French children's book called Belle et Sébastien.

The band members are: Stuart Murdoch (lead singer, songwriter), Stevie Jackson (lead guitarist, singer), Chris Geddes (keyboardist), Richard Colburn (drummer), Sarah Martin (violinist, vocalist) and Bobby Kildea (bassist, guitarist). Former members include cellist/vocalist Isobel Campbell, trumpet player Mick Cooke and vocalist/bassist Stuart David.

In 2009, Stuart Murdoch formed a side project called God Help the Girl, which released a single eponymous album. The songs on the album were of a similar style to Belle and Sebastian, but the lyrics focused more on the experiences of young women. Likewise, women sung most of the songs (though a fair number of normal Belle and Sebastian songs also have women singers). At some point, Murdoch though about using the songs for a film musical, but had no way of putting this into action.

At least until Kickstarter came around, which let Murdoch direct and produce God Help the Girl in 2014.

Discography:

  • Tigermilk (1996)
  • If You're Feeling Sinister (1996)
  • The Boy With the Arab Strap (1998)
  • Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (2000)
  • Storytelling (2002)
  • Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003)
  • The Life Pursuit (2006)
  • Write About Love (2010)
  • Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance (2015)
  • How to Solve Our Human Problems, Pts. I-III (2017-2018)


Belle and Sebastian provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Alliterative Title: "Me and the Major", "Act of the Apostle", "The Same Star", "Seymour Stein", "The Cat with the Cream".
  • Animal Motifs: Animals feature prominently in their songs; some examples are "Mayfly", "Funny Little Frog", "Judy and the Dream of Horses", "The Fox in the Snow", "Dog on Wheels", "The Cat with the Cream".
    • Their debut album was titled Tigermilk.
  • Anti-Love Song: "You Don't Send Me," which also counts as Lyrical Dissonance.
  • Awful British Sex Comedy: The video for "Step Into My Office, Baby" is a parody of these movies.
  • Baroque Pop: One of the more famous bands in the genre.
  • Bi the Way:
    • The narrator of "Rhoda", in love with a girl and a boy.
    • Possibly the titular "Lazy Line Painter Jane", judging by lyrics like "you will have a boy tonight, you will have a girl tonight".
  • Book-Ends: The album Tigermilk begins with the song "The State I Am In," which mentions a book by the same name. The last song, "Mary Jo," contains the line "Mary Jo, you're looking thin, you're reading the book, 'The State I'm In,' but oh, it doesn't help at all."
  • Bookworm: The go-to character of a B&S song, appearing most prominently in "Le Pastie de la Bourgeousie" and "Wrapped Up in Books".
  • Break-Up Song: "I'm Waking Up to Us", which comes with a heavy dose of unpleasant Reality Subtext (see Take That!, below).
  • Camp Straight: Stuart Murdoch may not be overtly camp, but his clean-cut appearance, slight lisp, and occasional queer references in his lyrics have raised suspicions that he may be gay. But he says that he's "straight enough to bore himself."
  • Cast Full of Gay: "She's Losing It", whose protagonist transfers to a school "where the boys go with boys and the girls with girls".
  • Celebrity Song: "Enter Sylvia Plath", "Seymour Stein", "Roy Walker".
    • "Piazza, New York Catcher", titled after Mike Piazza, former catcher for the Mets. The song does talk a bit about him, but it's mostly about an uncertain, nomadic relationship between a man and a woman.
  • Citizenship Marriage: "The State I Am In":
    I got married in a rush
    To save a kid from being deported
    Now she's in love
  • The City vs. the Country: "Your Cover's Blown".
  • Creator Thumbprint: A frequent plot point is an underdog character escaping the real world through books or music.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Mentioned in "If You're Feeling Sinister":
    Chances are you'll probably feel better
    If you stayed and played with yourself
  • Deliberately Monochrome:
    • All of their album cover artwork — initially done as a nod to the album art of The Smiths and then carried on as tradition.
    • The story part in the music video for "Jonathan David".
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • "She's Losing It".
    • At one point in the song, the narrator of "I Could Be Dreaming" addresses someone who is possibly beaten by their partner.
  • Epic Rocking:
    • The 6-minute "Your Cover's Blown", which constantly switches gears throughout the song.
    • "This is Just a Modern Rock Song", clocking in at over 7 minutes. (Whether it's a rock song or not is a different matter entirely).
  • Erotic Dream: The subject of "Dirty Dream Number Two".
  • Face on the Cover: Their album cover art normally features friends or acquaintances rather than the actual band members; an exception is The Boy with the Arab Strap, which has a photo of keyboardist Chris Geddes on the cover.
  • The Generation Gap: The protagonist of "Me and the Major" says that he and the Major could perhaps be friends, if not for this.
  • Growing Up Sucks: A frequent subject matter of their songs, but made explicit in "I'll Be Your Pilot":
    It’s tough to become a grown up
    Put it off while you can
    I tell you that when you land in the real world
    It’s like quick sand.
  • Hello, Sailor!: "The State I Am In" mentions it:
    My brother had confessed he was gay
    It took the heat off me for a while
    He stood up with a sailor friend
    Made it known upon my sisters wedding day
  • Hidden Track: "Songs For Children" goes unlisted on on 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light, where it appears on the same track as "Put the Book Back on the Shelf" ' — unlike the majority of songs hidden at the end of an album, there's only a few seconds pause after the last listed song.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: "Seeing Other People".
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: "Fuck This Shit" and "Judy is a Dickslap" (both relaxing Instrumentals).
    • "The Boy with the Arab Strap" is, ostensibly, an unintentionally awkward title.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: "Jonathan David."
  • Last Chorus Slow-Down: "Your Cover's Blown".
  • Literary Allusion Title:
    • The name of the band comes from a children's book.
    • "The Loneliness of the Middle-Distance Runner" is a reference to the short story "The Loneliness of a Long-Distance Runner".
  • Location Song: Despite its title, "Piazza, New York Catcher" is set in San Francisco.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: The subject of "Piazza, New York Catcher", which is based on the early stages of the relationship between Stuart Murdoch and his now-wife.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Type 2, with the lineup unchanged between 2002 (when Campbell left the band) and 2013 (when Mick Cooke left the band).
  • Long Title: "Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying" and the album Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant.
  • Love Nostalgia Song: "Another Sunny Day":
    So what went wrong? It was a lie, it crumbled apart
    Ghost figures of past, present, future haunting the heart
  • Love Triangle: "Jonathan David".
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Gentle, uptempo melodies combined with cynical, angry, or mournful lyrics are frequent in their songs.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Ever Had a Little Faith?", "I Fought in a War", "I'm Waking Up to Us".
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: "Poor Boy" is a criticism / deconstruction of this trope.
  • Name and Name: The name of the band, and also the name of their song "Belle and Sebastian".
  • Nocturnal Emission: "Dirty Dream Number Two":
    You are dreaming, you are sleepy / You are stuck to the sheets.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted in "String Bean Jean", whose protagonist is mentioned as being "on the rag".
  • Not Christian Rock: Stuart Murdoch used to work as a caretaker at a church, and some of their songs have overtly Christian lyrics ("If you find yourself trapped in love / Say a prayer to the man above") and themes ("Ever Had a Little Faith?"), yet you'd be hard-pressed to call them Christian rock.
  • One-Man Song: "Piazza, New York Catcher", "Lord Anthony", "Seymour Stein", "Roy Walker".
    • Subverted with "Jonathan David", which is about two men.
  • One Steve Limit: The band's original lineup included two Stuarts (Murdoch and David). Played straight since Stuart David's departure from the band in 2000.
  • One-Woman Song: "Mary Jo", "Rhoda", "Lazy Line Painter Jane", "Judy and the Dream of Horses", "Enter Sylvia Plath", "String Bean Jean".
  • One-Word Title: "Expectations", "Mayfly", "Chickfactor", "Fiction", "Freak", "Consuelo", "Storytelling", "Allie".
  • "Pachelbel's Canon" Progression: "Get Me Away from Here I'm Dying", transposed into F# Major.
  • Parental Love Song: "I'll Be Your Pilot" is sung from the perspective of a father vowing to keep his son safe and happy.
  • Pun:
    • The line "the statue's crying too, and well he may" (from "Piazza, New York Catcher") is a play on Willie Mays, whose statue stands outside the AT & T park.
    • "You were digging plants, I dug you, beg your pardon" (from "Another Sunny Day").
  • Queer Romance:
    • "She's Losing It":
      Who needs boys when Lisa's round?
    • "Seeing Other People", whose (male) narrator is bitter about his boyfriend being either closeted or only "experimenting" with boys.
  • Schoolgirl Lesbians: Show up in "She's Losing It".
  • Shout-Out: Now has its own page.
  • Signs of Disrepair: The cover of Push Barman To Open Old Wounds depicts a sign at a pub that's been altered to read that way (it originally said "Push Bar To Open").
  • Sixth Ranger: Dave McGowan of Teenage Fanclub has been with the band since 2011, yet he's not officially in the band and never appears in promotional material.
  • Small Town Boredom: "Lazy Line Painter Jane".
  • The Smurfette Principle: The departure of Isobel Campbell left Sarah Martin the only female member of the band.
  • Something Completely Different: Much of Tigermilk is in the indie/chamber pop style. "Electronic Renaissance", however, is full-blown Synth-Pop.
  • The Something Song: "This is Just a Modern Rock Song", "This is an Everlasting Song".
  • Spoken Word in Music:
    • "A Space Boy Dream".
    • The outro of "I Could Be Dreaming" features Isobel Campbell reading from Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle in the background.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The narrator of "Funny Little Frog".
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Stuart Murdoch is considered the lead vocalist, but Stevie Jackson has also gotten frequent vocal/songwriting showcases. Also, Sarah Martin, Isobel Campbell, and Stuart David have all taken lead vocals more than once each.
  • Something Else Also Rises: The music video for "Step Into My Office, Baby" contains various visual metaphors for sex.
  • Take That!: "I'm Waking Up to Us" is commonly believed to be about the dissolution of the romantic relationship between bandmates Stuart Murdoch and Isobel Campbell. The fact that Campbell was still in the band when the song was released makes it a pretty vicious example.
    • Likewise, Campbell's post-B&S song “Monologue for an Old True Love” is believed to be a response to "I'm Waking Up to Us".
  • Title Track: If You're Feeling Sinister, The Boy with the Arab Strap, Storytelling, Dear Catastrophe Waitress and Write About Love each have one.
  • War Is Hell: Seems to be a theme in "I Fought In A War."
  • Wham Line: "Funny Little Frog" seems like a typical love song, until this line comes along:
    You are my girl, and you don't even know it.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: The title character of "Lord Anthony" wears a dress and blue mascara.
  • Word Salad Title: "Le Pastie de la Bourgeousie", which is apparently a phrase that Stuart Murdoch saw scribbled on a wall somewhere.

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