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Try as we might, it is difficult to disentangle ourselves from our past. We might seek new horizons, switch careers or simply change our hairstyle, but the baggage that accumulates over years of lived experiences never really goes away. We can get better at hiding it from others or ignoring it, but sooner or later something gives us away - a tell in the way we approach certain subjects, or a certain defensiveness perhaps. This is as true for people as it is for musicians. For bands the fact that each album is supposed to be a continuation of the last, brings its own problems - you need to satisfy your existing fans whilst drawing in new ones if you want to be seen as successful by the machine which funds your creative excursions. Sure, we might praise artists that manage to switch and shift between genres with chameleonic ease, but often we only appreciate such endeavours in retrospect, or at the least cherrypick the moments that support our own personal arguments.

Now after almost twenty years of recording, Belle & Sebastian have made the biggest stylistic leap of their career. Forget all the descriptors you previously associated with the Glaswegian six-piece. Their ninth album, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, doesn't so much re-invent them, it practically serves as a reboot.

Opening with 'Nobody's Empire', easily the most personal song bandleader Stuart Murdoch has ever written, it brings the Belle & Sebastian story to its origin, detailing Murdoch's struggle with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome). For almost seven years he was unable to work and has stated that this isolating experience was the key factor in encouraging him to pursue a career as a songwriter. Melodies came to Murdoch, characterised here as "a girl who sang like the chime of a bell / she touched me when I was in hell." Music became his focus and ultimately, along with faith, saved him from a fate that - lyrically at least - he compares to death.

Faith is an interesting subject in Belle & Sebastian's oeuvre. During their formative years Murdoch, a regular church-goer, would tend to frame religion within the viewpoints of characters he created, but as the years went by he became far more open with regards to his spiritual beliefs. In 'Nobody's Empire' the religious symbolism is apparent throughout and reinforces the rather personal nature of the song. "But a sight unseen," Murdoch sings, "you were pulling strings / you had a different idea."

Whilst perhaps not what he felt at the time, there is a retrospective sense of destiny, that his illness was part of the path that would lead to his liberation from ordinary life. The latter verse which further suggests images of freedom from mundanity, seem aimed outwards, away from Murdoch's experience and towards those whose lives he has touched and improved through Belle & Sebastian's music. The song ends with a question, perhaps directed at us, the audience. "Did I do ok? Did I pave the way? Was I strong when you were wanting?" It ends this deeply personal tale by establishing criteria for success - except it isn't about money or fame, or anything to do with the 'industry'. It's about a connection, it's about spreading the healing, transformative power of music.

Musically, 'Nobody's Empire' isn't particularly revolutionary. Whilst it perhaps goes deeper into the heart of the band's very existence, the overall presentation provides the link between the Belle & Sebastian of old and the one that exists at this very moment. It is telling that they chose to acknowledge their past in the first track, confronting our expectation of where the band came from and where they are headed. The song's narrative is wrapped in an arrangement which allows the band to draw you in with soft swirling synthesisers, a beautiful, ringing guitar melody and a steady, pulsing rhythm underneath it all that drives the song forward. Choral vocals provide emphatic musical swells and the result is a rich, elegiac overture.

That introduction might be a "quiet revolution" but it is nothing compared to lead single 'The Party Line'. Out of context, its heavy disco influence - from the hard kick drum beat, to the Chic-style guitar, the myriad synthesisers and deep bass cutting a groove through it all - was an incredible shock. It's not the first time the band have dabbled with electronic music (debut record Tigermilk included the hazy synth-pop of 'Electronic Renaissance' after all) but here was a song that had a confidence about it, an infectious danceability, yet at its core still feels like a Belle & Sebastian track.

Part of this is down to the lyrics, which frame 'The Party Line' as another easily relatable story. Ostensibly about a boy meeting a girl under the flash of strobes, edging closer beat by beat, it seems to leave these would-be-lovers separated; sharing just one night of dance floor tension. The following morning Murdoch's protagonist is left considering the harsher side of modern life and wondering "where we you when I was king in this part of town."

What really confirms 'The Party Line' as a bona-fide Belle & Sebastian track though is the richness of it. Whilst always out to make what Sarah Martin refers to as "modern music", their records tend to have a very '60s production aesthetic. Early records were a little rougher around the edges, but their arrangements were still wonderfully complex, brimming with musical ideas and instruments. Whilst tonally different, the '60s style of detailed, layered production (characterised best by Spector's Wall of Sound) is something that's been common on all Belle & Sebastian records. Girls In Peacetime doesn't really change that. There's so much going on in a track like 'The Party Line' that you'll be spotting new details on your fifth or sixth listen - little bass runs, subtle background harmonies and twinkling synthesiser melodies. These extras never overwhelm the track, rather they often help to make the tracks feel more spacious, as though they envelop the listener entirely.

This has always been one of the strengths of Belle & Sebastian's slower tracks, the lush production creating a comforting cocoon of music. A track like 'The Cat With The Cream', probably one of the few tracks that would sit easily on any one of their earlier records, is just a gorgeous, atmospheric blend of strings, acoustic guitar and soft, harmonious vocals drenched in reverb. Sarah Martin's quiet, understated performance complements Murdoch's beautifully and the backing utilises the string swells to great effect, fading into the background during the verses; becoming clearer during the choruses. It provides the song with a certain subtlety, coming as a breath of fresh air after following three up-tempo tracks, drawing you further into this world the band have conjured up. The whole thing feels almost like a musical fairytale, though one grounded in kitchen sink reality - Cinderella as directed by Mike Leigh perhaps.

That 'The Cat With The Cream' is followed by the album's most exuberant, and dare I say it, enjoyable moment, is most definitely intentional. The slow, steady pace feels almost languorous next to the kitschy europop of 'Enter Sylvia Plath'. A near seven-minute electro-pop workout it again features Martin and Murdoch on joint vocal duties over enthusiastic synth arpeggios, electric guitar, galloping bass and probably the most propulsive percussive work we've ever seen from the band. It's an energetic track that, despite its length, doesn't even come close to outstaying its welcome. It's certain to cause some raised eyebrows, but its boldness might just be the thing that wins people over (it certainly worked for me).

The more you listen to 'Enter Sylvia Plath' the more it makes sense. Its disco stylings and lyrics make it stand as a sibling to 'The Party Line' as the protagonist begs for freedom from their life, only this time they seem to follow through on their dream. "Put your hand on mine and take me from this tired life / take me from this early night / from the sea and rain and countryside," Murdoch sings. Understandably, given Sylvia Plath's life, the spectre of death hangs over the song particularly in lines like "I will leave the ones I love." It's a song, like Plath's poetry that begs you to unravel its meaning.

The longer running time allows the band to work in a number of extended musical moments, such as a haunting middle-eight which strips away the synths to focus on Martin, addressing Murdoch's "boy" directly over Stevie Jackson's acoustic guitar and Bobby Kildea's driving bass. The song's outro, meanwhile, is a wonderful two minute sequence that layers in more sounds, before fading out the arpeggios to leave spacey synthesisers playing out over more strummed acoustic guitar. These moments help the song feel more open ended, something that producer Ben Allen was keen to explore with the band.

Allen, who has previously produced for the likes of Animal Collective, Deerhunter and CeeLo Green, changed the way the band recorded and produced the album. Previously they would have the songs and arrangements set in stone before setting foot inside a studio; this time Allen created a basic framework for the band to work within and then tweaked things which weren't working. He treated the band as a sampling board, even moving performances to other places if necessary. This opened the band up to new ideas and brought a hip-hop sensibility to Belle & Sebastian. The resulting process was described as "liberating" - something which becomes the thematic link throughout the record. Everything about Girls In Peacetime feels freer, looser, and more like the band had fun recording it.

Who for instance, would have expected the dancehall rhythms of 'Perfect Couples' or the squelchy synthesiser of 'The Book Today', or even the calypso-infused 'Play For Today'. The first listen is thrill-ride through unexpected moments from a band I'm sure many felt were becoming stuck in a familiar groove. Once the initial shock wears off what's left is an album that finds the band refreshed, and with so much to discover across the record's 12 tracks.

Most notable amongst these is the seven and a half minute 'Play For Today' which sees Murdoch in a duet with Dee Dee Penny of the Dum Dum Girls. Its calypso, steel-drum aping lead is mixed in with '60s girl-pop backing vocals and '80s percussion effects (I'm sure I caught some cowbell in there somewhere). The song steadily builds in intensity, constructing layers around Penny and Murdoch's sparkling chemistry, whilst keeping a steady rhythm at its core, urging everything forward into a sudden, euphoric ending. If one track on this album can be considered essential it's this one. It captures exactly what Belle & Sebastian are capable of in this new phase - heartwarming songwriting, infectious rhythms and arrangements rich in detail and texture.

'Perfect Couples' is another standout and the only track on which Jackson gets to take centre-stage as lead vocalist. Built around a catchy dancehall rhythm and spiky, reverb flecked guitar there's more than an element of Arcade Fire's 'Reflektor' to the track. There's a cool, funky vibe to the whole affair as Jackson recounts "sexual tension by the fridge." Similarly 'Allie', which almost opens like a traditional Belle & Sebastian track, quickly evolves into an up-tempo stomp, full of exhilarating guitar licks and percussive flourishes. Murdoch's lyrics seem much darker on this than anything else on the record (save for 'Nobody's Empire') as he references "bombs in the middle east" and calls out "the tricks in your head."

Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance ends with 'Today (This Army's For Peace)'. A soft, washed-out track that sees Murdoch's vocals clouded in echoing reverb, sounding like they're coming from a more blissed-out dimension. The plucked guitar rises and falls like waves, and theres a blurring of synths and strings like the sound of sea breeze that ebbs and flows throughout the track. After all the excitement and energy of the previous tracks this is the comedown. It's the late-night bus home, the cold air refreshing your tired body enough to get you the last few steps to the bed you'll fall into, instantly giving in to sleep.

"Come out into the light, today," Murdoch begs as the song ends and the music fades away. It's a beautiful, introspective ending to the album and couldn't be more fitting. The band has never felt more assured, more exciting than they do at this moment right now. Nine albums in Belle & Sebastian may have just achieved what many once thought impossible - they've reinvented themselves and perhaps in doing so, released one of the most important records of their career.

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