A new Belle and Sebastian release is always something to cheer. So three new releases leads to the inevitable conclusion: three cheers! Here is the latest installment in a career that has always pursued a singular and delightful vision of what pop represents and what it can achieve, a career that has seen them triumph against the odds to win a Brit award, be one of the first bands to curate their own festival, and play at the official London residence of the US ambassador (the last president’s ambassador, not the current one’s).
“My capacity to be delighted by pop music has not waned,” Stuart Murdoch – lead singer, main songwriter, player of piano and guitar – says. His love of pop is conveyed by the fact that Belle and Sebastian’s new music has the timeless blend of joy and melancholy that has always characterised them. What has changed is how the group want their music to be released. Over the coming months, Belle and Sebastian will gift the world a double album’s worth of music – richly melodic, deliciously literate, as gentle as a summer stream but as insistent as a river – but they won’t do it by releasing an album. Instead, there will be three EPs, under the umbrella title How To Solve Our Human Problems.
“We’d made a couple of LPs, Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, within the space of six months,” Murdoch says, remembering the early days of the band’s career, and how that fed into their decision-making this time. “I thought somebody was going to take the keys to the studio away, and I wanted to record as many songs as I could. I remembered the Smiths talking about how important non-album singles were to them, so we thought: ‘Why don’t we record a bunch of songs and then pick three A-sides and rally around those.” The results were the EPs Dog on Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light EPs.
So when Belle and Sebastian felt new music percolating within them, they decided to break from the working methods of the recent years and instead stay at home, record the tracks as and when, often producing themselves, working with friends and collaborators to see what emerged. Working in Glasgow gave them the freedom to work without the constraints that making an album can impose: they could take their time honing and experimenting.
Just as those three early EPs are at the very heart of the Belle and Sebastian canon, so these three new releases deserve to be treated not as a stopgap, but as definitive releases in their own right. How To Solve Our Human Problems is both an era of its own, and part of a long, rich history. How To Solve Our Human Problems is, if you like, Belle and Sebastian Redux.