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Belle & Sebastian Week!

There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!

As the biggest God Help the Girl fans this side of Glasgow, we spent the week thinking about Belle & Sebastian.

A panel of esteemed sad bastards fans voted on the list of The Top 25 Belle & Sebastian Songs of all time until now. Song write-ups have wistful reminisces abut the Mets, the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, bad temp jobs, and, sometimes, the band.

If you need something to listen to while reading the big list, we put together a Spotify playlist. Magic words: put spotify:user:sportsalcohol in the search bar in Spotify to start following us.

The Outcasts posts talks about the songs that hovered on the fringes of the list.

Jesse argues that God Help the Girl revives the movie-musical genre that Rex Harrison tried so hard to kill.

And, if you don’t believe it, try not to be charmed by Belle & Sebastian Week’s Track Marks (yes, we’re still calling it that): “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie,” by/from God Help the Girl.


The Top 25 Belle & Sebastian Songs List

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

It is not an anniversary or an occasion, at least not directly. None of Belle & Sebastian’s seminal albums turn a particularly interesting age in 2014, and though it sounds like their new record is pretty much complete, it doesn’t seem like it will see release before 2015. But as Stuart Murdoch’s first film God Help the Girl hits theaters over the next couple of months and the band branches out to other projects, as large bands often do, it seemed like as good a time as any to take stock of this Belle & Sebastian business. After less than two decades together, the group has put out seven albums, another three albums’ worth of singles and such, and given us a whole lot of hours of ways to feel happy and sad, sometimes at the same time. So happy 18th birthday, If You’re Feeling Sinister! Have a great 11th, Dear Catastrophe Waitress! Has it been four years already, Write about Love? Let’s get listing.
Continue reading The Top 25 Belle & Sebastian Songs List

God Help the Girl Brings Back the Musical

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

God Help the Girl, the new film by Belle and Sebastian mastermind and first-time writer-director Stuart Murdoch is, however improbably, the best movie musical I’ve seen in years.

And I’ve been seeing some musicals. It’s been more than a decade since the likes of Moulin Rouge! and Chicago made a concerted effort to bring back the genre that had been sleepy, borderline nonexistent, for much of the eighties and nineties. In that time, there have been several hits the genre: Les Miserables, Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, and Dreamgirls all made good money, which is probably why both Into the Woods and a new Annie get the big-screen treatment this Christmas (though their trailers still don’t seem comfortable with the notion of selling them in their actual genres).

Cinematically speaking, though, a lot of these movies are uninspired, at least in terms of reasons to get excited about the long-dormant genre. The big hits have all been adaptations of Broadway shows, mostly clumsy; Les Miserables came the closest to applying an actual audio-visual strategy to its material, and in the style of director Tom Hooper, it pretty much hit its marks (extended-take close-ups, recorded-live singing, CG sets for scope) over and over, wearing a rut in the floor.The better recent musicals have been outliers of sorts, whether due to the more musical-friendly medium of animation (Frozen, which has a song-heavy opening and the near-instantly iconic “Let It Go,” but relatively few songs in its second half) and family entertainment (the excellent revival of the Muppets series, with its witty, catchy Bret McKenzie songs), a focus on dance performance rather than songs (the Step Up series), or a choice to stay on the non-integrated style of in-movie performance whenever possible (the masterful kinda-musical Inside Llewyn Davis; the less masterful but HBO-friendly Pitch Perfect).
Continue reading God Help the Girl Brings Back the Musical

TRACK MARKS: “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie” by God Help the Girl

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

God Help the Girl is not quite Belle and Sebastian, not least because it’s not quite an actual band. It resides in the more nebulous region of “project” and qualifies for any number of typical project modifiers — side, pet, dream, or all of the above. It shares with Belle a chief stakeholder in the person of one Mr. Stuart Murdoch, primary (though not only) singer and songwriter in the band and more benevolent Svengali (is that a thing?) of Girl/Girl/”Girl.” The first publicly available incarnation was an album released in 2009, featuring songs written or (in the case of a few that first appeared on the 2006 Belle and Sebastian album The Life Pursuit) reproduced for female vocalists of the girl-group style, which would become an even more prevalent indie-rock flashpoint over the next couple of years. Murdoch made no secret of his ambition that this album eventually become the soundtrack to a musical film, and after several more EPs and singles and another Belle and Sebastian record and some touring and Kickstarting, lo, the film itself did appear, one of those things that seems as if by magic to viewers, and probably seemed more like an arduous, shoestring-budgeted undertaking to those who actually worked on it.

In some ways, the songs of God Help the Girl are a lot like Belle and Sebastian: wistful, retro, witty, melodic. But switching from the occasional third-person female point of view (sung by Stuart) or the implied first-person female point of view (sung by others in the band, and/or Carey Mulligan) to mostly female narration does change the alchemy of the band (much of B&S did play on the original 2009 album) in interesting ways. The most immediate of the God Help the Girl songs is probably “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie,” which told a clear story long before the sequence was filmed for one of the best moments of God Help the Girl: The Feature Motion Picture. The narrator wants to dance, and the various boys around her and her friend Cassie aren’t up to the task. It makes sense that Murdoch wrote this in 2009, as Belle and Sebastian continued to get peppier and dancier. “Cassie” combines their newfound verve with the character-driven point of view Murdoch perfected early in their career; it’s an even more compatible combination of the two aesthetics than recent-ish up-tempo numbers like “Sukie in the Graveyard,” maybe because the first-person female narration brings us closer to the action than Murdoch’s empathetic but slightly more distanced portrait of Sukie, or maybe because it expresses such a heedless sentiment in such a wry, Belle and Sebastian-y way.

Though the God Help the Girl soundtrack album that accompanies the film features many of the same tracks as the original 2009 record, the songs, including “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie,” got makeovers for the occasion, re-sung by the movie’s stars (in this case, Emily Browning — backed by some of the original band’s singers). There’s something more electric about the soundtrack version, and that goes double for seeing it in the movie itself: like the film’s other numbers, the scene looks handmade while mainlining the bold joyfulness of classic movie musicals. Emily Browning and Hannah Murray (Cassie here, Cassie on Skins, Cassie forever) and Murdoch (directing them) all bring the song, the whole Belle and Sebastian thing, to vibrant life. The original version is good, but the movie, like the best musicals, further elevates its songs. It’s the original 2009 version in the YouTube audio below; the musical number as it appears in the film is actually on YouTube somewhere, but it’s in a squished aspect ratio and suboptimal audio mix and anyway, you should see it in the context of the movie for maximum delight.