Maybe it's no coincidence that one of the most exciting, least conventional bands to emerge in the latter half of the '90s also had one of the least conventional starts. Picked up as the project of a university marketing class, the ever-expanding Scottish band Belle And Sebastian unexpectedly achieved stardom on a small scale with its first album, Tigermilk. Expanding its audience in both Europe and the U.S. with the masterful If You're Feeling Sinister, the group proved that the world, or at least an enthusiastic cult, was ready for sensitive teen music for grownups: ornately crafted melodies accompanied by lyrics that were clever without being cute and dominated by a personality that was sensitive and retiring without being mopey. In the wake of this success, Tigermilk, originally limited to 1,000 copies, took on a nearly legendary quality, becoming widely bootlegged and even more widely sought after. Wisely, it's now been reissued legitimately, and it almost lives up to its reputation. The album-opening "The State I Am In" could sound a bit more impressive, but only because B&S cut a better version of it on an EP, and it's hard to imagine the band outdoing the versions of the two songs that follow. "Expectations" and "She's Losing It" more than live up to high standards set by the group's later work, displaying the ability to incorporate a small orchestra's worth of instruments into economical pop melodies while staking out unique lyrical territory. (For example: "Your obsessions get you known throughout the school for being strange / Making life-size models of the Velvet Underground in clay.") That's true of most of Tigermilk. The faux-electronica of "Electronic Renaissance" lends the album one of its few head-scratching moments, while "I Don't Love Anyone" finds chief songwriter Stuart Murdoch still struggling to find his voice, but nothing gets in the way of making Tigermilk an essential album for both Belle And Sebastian fans and virtually everyone else.
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