Mash notes

Not going all the way with Belle and Sebastian.

The latest in Belle and Sebastian's line of fake publicity photos. Har-de-har.

The latest in Belle and Sebastian's line of fake publicity photos. Har-de-har.


First of all, thanks for the copy of your new album! I really like how “Don’t Leave the Light On Baby” splits the difference between folkie melancholy and Gamble and Huff-style soul. And you know how you threw that Burt Bacharach-via-Saint Etienne horn section into the middle of “The Chalet Lines” to give it some extra swing? That was awesome! Oh, can’t forget about “Nice Day for a Sulk” (funny little self-parody) or “Woman’s Realm” (Carole King piano!). My favorites tend to move around a lot, though—it’s all pretty well done. Great job!

Belle and Sebastian

Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Matador)

But, well, I don’t know how else to say this, so I’ll just be blunt. I don’t think we should see each other anymore. I mean, I like you a lot and everything; I think you know that already, since I’ve bought and enjoyed all your records. But you’re never going to completely own my heart because you’re so perfectly cultivated—your tunes catchy but not annoying, your arrangements subtle yet piquant—that you’ll never be transcendent enough for me. You’re either too much of a wuss or not enough of one, I’m not sure which, and that straight-down-the-middle quality makes you just sort of . . . there.

I have to admit that this quality surprised me. When I first heard about you I was completely suspicious: Ooh, great, another limp-wristed Britpop (OK, Scottish, whatever) group whose willful wispiness and droll androgyny would upend the UK pop press and a handful of college-age American shut-ins. Whoop-de-fucking-la. So given my chronic aversion to any band whose fans I suspect need a life even worse than I do, it’s hardly surprising that I deliberately avoided listening for so long. The consensus surrounding you had something inescapably smug about it, like all the unpopular kids in high school suddenly seizing power and turning out to be every bit as insufferable as the popular kids. Frankly, I expected you to be annoying as hell. And you weren’t, not at all.

I realize, of course, that I was being just as much of a petulant shut-in as I accused you and your fans of being, attempting in my own way to reverse the stupid hipster polarity that refuses to acknowledge that, say, Kid Rock or Monster Magnet could possibly make worthwhile music because they look and talk like bikers. So just because my mix tapes have more interesting stuff on them than your fans’ doesn’t mean you’re without merit. In fact, you’re wonderful, as I said before, and except for the title pushing the twee button too hard (Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant? Why not I’m Going to Act Superior to All of You By Pretending to Be Morrissey?), I think your new record is the second-best thing you’ve ever done (The Boy with the Arab Strap is still my favorite). I’m proud of you, Belle and Sebastian. You’re going to be around a long time.

And, well, it’s just not enough for me. Sure, you fit the way I live, but you don’t define or apotheosize it the way, for instance, Yo La Tengo do. Your cleverness is never showy, but I find it impossible to believe that you’ve ever provoked a visceral response from anyone, ever, unless they care more about lyrics than music, in which case I just feel sorry for them. You keep insinuating yourself into my ears but you never really land. And what embarrasses me most about not wanting to give you a chance before isn’t that I wound up liking you, but that pro or con, I thought I’d care more than I actually do. And I do care, Belle and Sebastian, but not enough to love you the way everybody else seems to. I hope you understand.

Your friend,


PS: I still wanna see you if you come to Seattle. Let me know if you do, OK? Thanks!

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