Belle & Sebastian Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Matador)

Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Matador)

Belle & Sebastian

Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Matador)

Five minutes into Belle & Sebastian's Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, it's clear this elusive Scottish septet knows its formula. Famous for their maddeningly wry lyrics and chief vocalist Stuart Murdoch's reedlike, wispy croon, Belle & Sebastian have achieved cult-like status largely by poking holes in British pop star convention, as well as by putting out some of the most sweetly original, fresh-sounding pop in the past five years. On their fourth full-length, as on the previous three, the gems are subtle and difficult to spot at first; after three or four takes, songs like "I Fought in a War," "The Model," and the sylph-voiced Isobel Campbell's "Family Tree" emerge like images from a Polaroid. Fold Your Hands is less innocent and precious than the group's previous efforts, but the lyrics, most of them penned by Murdoch, are as wickedly clever as anything on 1998's The Boy With the Arab Strap, widely considered their most accomplished album. Meanwhile, the rest of the formula -- Murdoch's swooning, limpid vocals, coupled with guitarist Stevie Jackson's barely there strumming, and the muted backing of a miniature orchestra -- is preserved here like an archaeological specimen from an era when Morrissey and Johnny Marr were writing their first paeans to post-adolescent angst. Still, there's something to be said for creative evolution, and that's one area where Belle & Sebastian inevitably stumbles. Like a perpetually typecast actor, B&S just can't keep from writing the same songs over and over. That their music sounds better with time is just a tribute to how well the formula works.

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