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The BBC Sessions

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Album Review

Belle and Sebastian cut their first BBC session for the Mark Radcliffe Show in July of 1996 just a few months before their seminal If You're Feeling Sinister album was released. The four songs they recorded were live and intimate versions of three of the record's best tracks: "Like Dylan in the Movies," "Judy and the Dream of Horses," and "Stars of Track and Field." Hearing these songs (as well as "The State I Am In," from Tigermilk) in such a raw and unadorned state (complete with vocal wavers and assorted bum notes) isn't a revelation now, though one can imagine people tuned in to their radios that night were thrown for a loop, but it is pretty great. Of course, the songs are amazing, but just as impressively, Stuart Murdoch's vocals are heartbreakingly sincere and soulful, and the band definitively belie their image as shamblers by sounding tight and together. If they had never written or recorded more than just these four songs, they still would be legendary, but luckily they didn't quit while they were ahead and kept recording and releasing brilliant pop music. They also continued making trips to the BBC studios and The BBC Sessions collects songs recorded there between 1996 and 2001. The track list is made up of mostly album tracks and singles (highlights being an insistent "Sleep the Clock Around," a folky take on "Wrong Love," and a truly beautiful "Slow Graffiti") but the real treat for fans is the inclusion of the group's 2001 session for John Peel, for which they trotted out four songs that hadn't been released previously (or since) on record. Any one of them could have comfortably fit on a single, EP, or album and a couple even qualify as lost treasures: "The Magic of a Kind Word" pits Isobel Campbell's breathy vocals in the quiet verses against rich group harmonies in the insanely sunny choruses, and ends up as one of the band's brightest and lightest tunes that just could have been a hit single, "(My Girl's Got) Miraculous Technique" has a wonderfully relaxed groove built on samples and fleshed out with some wonky synth squiggles and lovely harmony vocals by Campbell and Stuart. It was Campbell's last recording made with the band and she really shines. That session alone is worth the price of the disc, and when you add the 1996 session, it becomes damn near essential for Belle and Sebastian fans.


Formed: 1995 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

A band that takes its name from a French children's television series about a boy and his dog would almost have to be precious, and to be sure, Belle & Sebastian are precious. But precious can be a damning word, and Belle & Sebastian don't have the negative qualities that the word connotes: they are private but not insular, pretty but not wimpy; they make gorgeous, delicate melodies sound full-bodied. Led by guitarist/vocalist Stuart Murdoch, the seven-piece band has an intimate, majestic sound that...
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