WOWEE ZOWEE (12)
March 21, 2018
One in a series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the subject of our favorite albums of the Nineties (1994–2003). A new installment in this series will appear each Wednesday during 2018.
IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER | BELLE AND SEBASTIAN | 1996
It didn’t look like the stuff of obsession. It was in a rack in the CD store, not far from BEATLES, and nothing about it came on strong. If anything, it came on weak. There was a girl, a copy of Kafka, and a wall, all filtered through a shade of red too pale to evoke either valentines or blood. Song titles read like chapters of an unpublished novel for clever teenagers. The whole suggestion was of public-school pretension, dormitory dreams, a Wes Anderson dollhouse without the boldness to be unabashedly what it was. (Wes would have made that red really red.) “Sinister”? They couldn’t mean it.
But they meant something. First song: “Stars of Track and Field.” Stuart Murdoch sounded so timorous, his whole face might have been shot with Novocain. Yet at some point the drums woke up, the tempo built, and there came a climax to grip your nerve center. If almost every song that followed was more or less forgettable, you tended to forget that fact, because the last song more than equaled the first. “Judy and the Dream of Horses” had Murdoch alone again, singing his coy, randy, private lines, his whimsical fillips about girls and boys and nature and books and the little quirks that make us love and obsess. And again, the beat quickened as the song began to chase something outside of itself, something you hadn’t seen coming. Brave and fixated, Murdoch pushed right through, holding to the song’s willowy vision until he found his beat, his release, his victory – and mine. Thank you, Stuart.
I’d heard enough: Belle and Sebastian were a rabbit hole, If You’re Feeling Sinister merely the opening. I dug back to their first album, followed the others as they came, and collected their absurdly abundant singles and EPs. So many lifetime finds: “Seymour Stein,” “Chickfactor,” “This is Just a Modern Rock Song,” “Photo Jenny,” dozens more. One discovered how tenacious and surprising these musicians were, with their protean arrangements, their mix of female and male voices, of pop and baroque, earnestness and silliness. And always, an addiction to momentum that unwrapped a song’s pretty packaging to reveal a gorgeous handmade gift.
As a new century began, they were at the center of my life.
WOWEE ZOWEE: Stephanie Burt on UNISEX | Anindita Basu Sempere on UNDER THE PINK | Mark Kingwell on DUMMY | Bill Nericcio on AMOR PROHIBIDO | Sherri Wasserman on HIPS AND MAKERS | Mimi Lipson on THANK YOU | John Overholt on BEN FOLDS FIVE | Jordan Ellenberg on GET LOST | Chelsey Johnson on PERSONAL BEST | Marilyn Snell on MAXINQUAYE | Dan Fox on DIFFERENT CLASS | Devin McKinney on IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER | Alice Boone on MTV UNPLUGGED (ALICE IN CHAINS) | Rob Wringham on SPICE | Joe Alterio on BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE | Jason Loeffler on SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS | Rick Pinchera on EITHER/OR | Josh Glenn on THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST | Jennifer Krasinski on SUPA DUPA FLY | Sara Ryan on DIG ME OUT | Luc Sante on MEZZANINE | Molly Wright Steenson on I CAN HEAR THE HEART BEATING AS ONE | Franklin Bruno on ENGLAND MADE ME | Michael Campochiaro on IS THIS DESIRE? | Adrienne Crew on CALIFORNICATION | Drew Daniel on I SEE A DARKNESS | Veda Hille on THE SOFT BULLETIN | Vanessa Berry on TEENAGE SNUFF FILM | Tom Kipp on GET SKINTIGHT | David Hirmes on DOPETHRONE | John Hilgart on YORK BLVD. | Deborah Wassertzug on JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT | Adam McGovern on INVINCIBLE SUMMER | Brian Berger on TIRED SOUNDS OF… | Michael Grasso on MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN | Jen Collins on HURRAH | Flourish Klink on THE TEACHES OF PEACHES | Judith Zissman on TALLAHASSEE | Lauren Oliver on SOUND-DUST | Jason Cohen on IS THIS IT | Matthew De Abaitua on THE RAINBOW CHILDREN | Jenny Davidson on TIME (THE REVELATOR) | Crystal Durant on LIVE THROUGH THIS | Gordon Dahlquist on GARBAGE | Erin M. Routson on WASHING MACHINE | Carl Wilson on TEMPTING | Jessamyn West on ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS | Kaleb Horton on STREETCORE | Tom Nealon on BAZOOKA TOOTH | Erik Davis on DOPESMOKER | David Levine on FEVER TO TELL | Deb Chachra on MASS ROMANTIC.
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