by Gargs Allard

How to Solve Human Problems Part 2/Belle and Sebastian (released January 19, 2018 by Rough Trade Records in England and Matador Records in the US)

In reference to Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian releasing three EP’s over three months time, starting in December of 2017, founding frontman Stuart Murdoch told Stereogum,  “I think these days when an LP comes out, it’s kind of disappointing. Nothing seems to happen, and I thought, ‘we’ve got to do something different.’ I hate just to tread water. I’ve been in this business now for 20 years. Surely we can use our heads and do something that’s a bit more interesting that might actually pique some interest.”

Call it a gimmick or just a little change of pace from the general routine, Murdoch, who hits the big 5-0 on August 25th, is always coming up with something new to help keep the music fresh. When he was younger, back to the days of their first album Tigermilk in 1996 and into the better part of two decades, Belle and Sebastian put out real blues and soul albums under the guise of indie rock and chamber pop. Though they sounded little like the two sacred genres of the blues or soul musically, attitude-wise they were just that  because Murdoch poured his soul into them, and wore his anguish on his sleeve. But gradually, Murdoch seem to do something odd for a long suffering rock star – he became happier.

So, while the angst of the past seems to be gone in much of the lyrics, along with the ambiguity of sexual orientation and the struggles of growing up an ill child, the words still reflect the brilliance and complexities of one the best songwriters of the 21st century.

Part 2 of this EP series contains all stellar tracks, three of them obviously Murdoch’s, while one is sung by Stevie Jackson and the other by Sarah Martin. Of Murdoch’s, “Show Me the Sun” refers to his longtime religious faith and belief in Christianity, but as in all his other songs, he is never preachy. Rather, he is real in his art as a reflection of his life and all the inner strife and pieces of happiness that come along with trying to be a better person in a world surcharged with opposition. Heavy in driving bass, drums and electric guitar, and with Sarah Martin’s echoing harmonies, Murdoch wails about trying to see the light in a dark world.

Speaking of Sarah Martin, the woman of many instruments contributes  “The Same Star” to the EP, a wet dream of a song that utilizes her gifted use of synthesizers, the vibraphone and a Beatlesque guitar right out of Sgt. Pepper. Her voice is cheerful and brisk, as she reflects on an important relationship that has shaped her life with both gratitude and a tinge of sadness.

The first single of the record, “I’ll Be Your Pilot,” is about Murdoch’s young son Denny. While the music is light and playful, Murdoch’s lyrics “It’s tough to be a grown up/Put it off while you can/I tell you that when you land in the real world – it’s like quick sand” is full of a sincere father’s wisdom. The dichotomy between being protected by a loving father while being a young innocent child to growing up into a messed up world is strongly felt here. And “I see you sleep/It’s amazingly sweet/I will keep you safe/I’ll be your pilot” is as touching and hopeful as Dylan’s “Forever Young,” McCartney’s “Put it There” or Paul Simon’s “Father and Daughter.”

Stevie Jackson’s “Cornflakes” has a melodic bass line that seems to be the motor that propels you higher into the clouds as you listen. And then by the bridge you are in some ethereal world of snippets of songs and melodies by the likes of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, which may be how the air sounds as you approach a heavenly planet. The guitar sounds as trippy as “Blue Jay Way” and is a perfect transition into the last song of the EP.

Murdoch’s dulcet coming of age “A Plague on Other Boys” is about a boy from Nebraska in a serious relationship with a fellow 13-year-old. The girl drops him due to his seriousness, which is way beyond his years, and he thus sings, “my grade point average went to hell.” As the song goes, it takes him ten years to completely get over the relationship. It ends with “There’s a roped off part in every human heart for the first one you loved.”

The songs in part 2 of Human Problems seem to go better together than Part 1, which was still great as a collection of unrelated songs nonetheless. One can only wonder how kick ass a full-sized double-LP might have been if the first two EPs were released together along with the forthcoming part 3, plus, of course, a few other gems that are sure to be left off all three EPs. Actually, i should not complain. but rather remind myself to be grateful that bands like Belle and Sebastian are still making pleasing records well into their middle-age.

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