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Belle And Sebastian: Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant

Wit, tunefulness, and emotional directness rarely combine as well as they do for Glasgow's Belle And Sebastian. In many ways, it's seemed too good to last, leading pessimists to look for the first chink in the armor. For some, that came in the form of 1998's The Boy With The Arab Strap. If Belle And Sebastian's breakthrough album If You're Feeling Sinister—and, to a lesser extent, its debut Tigermilk—were dominated by Stuart Murdoch, it apparently wasn't his choice. The band has always described itself as a musical collective, and Boy committed that notion to record. Stepping back a bit, Murdoch let his bandmates take turns with the singing and songwriting duties, and some would say they took too many turns: Though remarkable in its own right, Boy proved far less cohesive than its predecessors. Even some of Murdoch's songs seemed like self-conscious attempts to distance himself from what had become an established formula, and as a result, the album often sounded like the work of a band trying to grow up too fast. The new Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, however, proves its instincts correct. Essentially Boy done better, it makes good on Belle And Sebastian's urge for diversity while sticking to the transcendent pop that made its name. Murdoch's "The Model" and "Woman's Realm," both standouts, could fit on any Belle And Sebastian album, but Peasant just as easily accommodates his country-ish "The Wrong Girl" and the outmoded, almost funky synths of "Don't Leave The Light On Baby." Contributions from other members rise to the occasion, as well, particularly the Lee Hazlewood homage "Beyond The Sunrise" (performed by Isobel Campbell and Stevie Jackson) and Campbell's "Family Tree." The title "Nice Day For A Sulk" suggests a lapse into self-parody (it's not), but it also indicates a strand of unredeemed melancholy that's more prominent than ever here. That means tales of love collapsing during wartime ("I Fought In A War") and working-class rape ("The Chalet Lines"), but, however dark its sentiment, "There's Too Much Love" cleanses the palette with unabashedly joyous pop. Peasant is remarkable, proving Belle And Sebastian's ability to expand its range while continuing to do what it does best.

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