Belle and Sebastian‘s revitalization since the turn of the millennium — a period when, Stuart Murdoch recently told Pitchfork, “the records actually got weaker” — is such a rare feat that we might not yet fully appreciate it. It’s rare enough for a band to release two cult-classic albums (1996′s Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister), let alone regain their luster for a decade-plus after a brief dip in quality control and the loss of an original member. It’s still unusual, too, to see an eight-piece group on a late-night TV stage, complete with flute, though of course that’s nothing out of the ordinary for the Murdoch-led Scottish indie-pop icons. Nobody writes them like they used to, so it may as well still be B&S.
Murdoch and co. visited Conan last night to perform “Nobody’s Empire,” from Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, which became available yesterday via Matador. Produced this time by Ben Allen, who has fingerprints across several of the most influential indie-leaning albums in recent years, the new album relies all the more on Murdoch’s subtle songcraft to maintain Belle and Sebastian’s perpetual sense of separateness. As they play what their gentle-voiced singer has called “absolutely the most personal [song] I’ve ever written,” there are no showy gestures, just winsome melodies and thoughtful lyrics that, at the same time, capture a certain modern condition: melancholy and conflicted, yes, but radiant with the suspicion it’s those without doubts who’re missing the point. Or as Murdoch puts it, disquietingly, “And if we live by books and if we live by hope/ Does that make us targets for gunfire?” A long list of accomplishments still grows longer.
Watch the Conan performance below, and read Barry Walters’ brand-new appreciation of the Glasgow group’s catalog, Belle and Sebastian’s Gentle and Unsettling Outsider Pop.