by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Belle & Sebastian - "This is Just a Modern Rock Song". Two thoughts:

1) I love Belle & Sebastian. I loved them more, once, back when they were murmuring and melancholy. Their new schtick is good & capable, and golden, but less suited to my rumpled heart. I first discovered them at a party at Catherine's house, when I was in high school. We had some classes together but she was two or three years older than me. At this party I didn't know anyone but Catherine and a couple of other kids from class, and them not well. In the opening hour or two, before too many people had arrived, eight or ten of us sat in the deep couches in Catherine's parents living-room, talking. They talked more than I did. I was a little intimidated. Catherine kept putting on CDs I had never heard, had never heard of. (And so you do not mistake these kids as more hip than they were, a Ben Folds Five record was among these.) One of the CDs was If You're Feeling Sinister. The band's name reminded me of the cartoon I had loved as a kid.

The red and black album cover caught my attention before the record had even come on. Everyone else in the room knew it, and they sang softly along. The evening was throwing blue-grey ribbons through the window. I had never heard such a quiet music - had never heard anything like it. I felt like someone was opening a door in a high wall, revealing a garden.

On Boxing Day I went to the big sale at the HMV/Sam's on Yonge Street in Toronto, looking for this record. (And some others: Sloan's Twice Removed is the one I remember.) I walked into the 'Alternative' section, pretty proud at how edgy I was. I doubted they'd even have it. But they did, in a big stack. I bought one.

Later I bought Tigermilk. And then The Boy with the Arab Strap. And Fold Your Hands Child. And then I stopped buying every Belle & Sebastian album.

In Napster's heyday, the main songs I downloaded - other than exploring the work of the Elephant 6 Collective, - were Belle & Sebastian b-sides. I must have got the lot of them - all those EPs and singles. Some of the songs caught me, - "Pastie de la bourgeoisie", "I Love My Car", the alternate "State I Am In", "Judy is a Dick Slap", - many didn't. These receded into memory, like you forget the way that certain trees blossom at certain brief times of year. Like how in the winter time you forget how thick a tree's leaves can look.

About six months ago this song, "This is Just a Modern Rock Song", came up at random on my computer. I had been in the other room so there stereo was turned up very loud. I had just come back into the living-room and sat down on the couch to read. The song starts very gently and so it slipped easily into my hair, the folds of my clothes, under my arm. It slipped between the pages. A soft presence.

I read, and the song grew. And then when things in it began to build, when the tambourine, drums and violin came in - I put down my book and stared at the stereo. I stared at it. Something was happening. The song was rising all around me, like seeds sprouting thick tall trunks, like the ceiling flowering with colour, like the bare lightbulb turning hot. There was such a richness that had come over the room. A gold & melancholy: a thrilling melancholy, a burnished gold. The song seemed to shake with feeling. It seemed to shake with sound. Played loud it felt as immersive a song as I had ever heard; it carried me more surely than anything I could recall. I'm not sure where it carried me, just that it did. Just that it does.

I bought a copy of the EP. How could I not? I had to own this, not just have an ephemeral and illegal download. And I would come home from long days of work, or wake up on long Saturdays, or arrive in the early hours from a late, late night on the town - and I would hope that the neighbours would understand as I put this song on, loud, and listened.

It's one of my favourites.

2) The song, for me, is in this line: "I'll admit I'm feeling strange." These are the words of someone who knows something is happening. Who doesn't know what. He doesnt turn away. He doesn't say "I was feeling strange." He says "I am". He's still in that place and he'll explore it. He'll keep feeling. He'll fill the room with the the strangeness-of-feeling; he'll summon whatever it is that's being summoned. He doesn't know what's happening to him, why or what or how, but he'll let it come. He'll let a fanfare sound, an invitational. They'll welcome the feeling, they'll feel the feeling. They'll play it in guitar, drums, tambourine, organ, violin (?), trumpet. And through magic, simple Glasgow sorcery, they'll put it on tape.

[buy the single / buy the Push Barman to Open Old Wounds rarities comp, where it is also included]


Our Knife - Silent Shout contest is still on.

Posted by Sean at August 14, 2006 3:00 AM


Posted by ru at August 14, 2006 7:26 AM

I always loved B&S singles. I love this song, because it is to me the last song they recorded with all this "quiet" qualities you talk about. After this one, they went "tapoum", they learned how to produce a record, how to be a killer band on stage, they made albums where every song was a reference to an old famous song.

Posted by Chryde at August 14, 2006 8:26 AM

Sean, write a book. But don't stop writing here too.

Posted by Tuwa at August 14, 2006 8:29 AM

The first time I heard Bell & Sebastian was alone in my quiet apartment, staring at the cover art for "...Arab Strap" after having ordered it as an import from my local HMV. I had read all about them in the UK magazines, but never actually heard them, so it was a big risk. Then "It Could Have Been A brilliant Career" started, and I could barely hear Stuart Murdock's lyrics, so I turned the volume up. By the time the title track came on, I knew I had found my new favourite band. I do like the "new sound" B&S, too, but there is something special about these early records, something unique and unifying to those who experienced them early on. Thanks for sharing, Sean, it was a brilliant post (and one I think I'll mention at my blog!).

Posted by JIm at August 14, 2006 9:03 AM

BTW, my blog is at

Posted by Jim at August 14, 2006 9:20 AM

Such a nice personal post, Sean. I wish I could get into B&S, but have never been able to. But this last week have really immersed myself in Isobel Campbell's solo work. Though I have my reservations, she's quite enchanting.

Posted by Amy at August 14, 2006 10:47 AM

You're missing out if you haven't listened to/or own the B & S Eps. I bought If You're Feeling Sinister because of a review in Exclaim in 1996, the only thing that kept me going was that they released 4 eps between sinister and Arab Strap. I would drive to Toronto (going to school in small town) when a new EP was released. All the songs were new, none were remixes or throwaways and made the anticipation for the next album almost unbearable. (Sloan had the same effect when they released Stood Up/Same Old Flame 7" single before One Chord to Another) Buy them all, you'll never regret it

Posted by MingMeow at August 14, 2006 11:53 AM

I too love this song.

Not just because of the line, 'Richard's into rock and roll', but that helps. Also, how good are the other 3 tracks on the ep?

Super good, that's how good

Posted by richard at August 14, 2006 4:06 PM

Good lord...this post is great.

Posted by Karin S. at August 14, 2006 4:24 PM

Sean-this is great. I could hear it a million times. Thanks for it.

Posted by Eric at August 14, 2006 6:05 PM

yes, brilliant post :)
i haven't properly listened to B&S in ages but back in the day this was one of my favourite songs for a while. so to listen to it again now, with the context of what you wrote, is just lovely. there are some gems on the eps, for sure, e.g., string bean jean, century of fakers.

(the first time i heard b&s, i was on a bus btwn small towns in poland at the end of winter. it was like everything was waking up at once.)

Posted by rrrobyn at August 14, 2006 10:04 PM

Oooooh, lovely. Thank you so much. I was thinking about this song all day today after listening and re-listening to the Legal Man EP.

Posted by bigbigtruck at August 14, 2006 11:09 PM

Push Barman to Open Old Wounds was actually the first Belle & Sebastian album I bought, and I hadn't even heard anything by them before. I bought it solely based on the reviews and the feel of the album, and then fell in love. I'm sure it was a different song that struck that nerve, but Belle & Sebastian have such a way of storytelling, with their quiet, introspective ballads as well as the newer, upbeat stuff. I always feel so surprised when people call them boring or uninspired, when they can do so much with so relatively little sound.

This is such an amazing post. Beautiful.

Posted by Laura at August 15, 2006 6:45 PM

This post is absolutely brilliant; you have a true way with words.

Lately the only B&S I've been listening to is the Life Pursuit, and hearing this song has really made me see how they've evolved; it's almost like it's not the same band that's done "Beautiful" and "Funny Little Frog". I love love love them. Thank you so much for posting this.

Posted by Michele at August 16, 2006 10:39 AM

i very much enjoyed reading this post. now im off to dig out 'sinister'.

Posted by justin gage at August 17, 2006 12:38 AM

I love this song - great pick. Toward the end, when they sing "Mitch is full of good intention / John is into rock and roll," I almost want to cry. That's what rock and roll is about, the reason bands form, the reason bands break up, the reason we listen to music and love it. Pure and simple

Posted by Jacob at August 17, 2006 12:53 PM

Thank you for this. You understand.

Posted by cindy hotpoint at August 17, 2006 5:59 PM

i, also, downloaded the all the B&S singles/EPs and love the shit out of them. the first disc of Push Barman (and the "modern rock song" EP on the beginning of disc 2) is easily my favorite B&S "album."

great post.

Posted by Dave at August 17, 2006 6:31 PM

Your post reminds me of Lester Bangs writing about the (earlyish) Clash, obviously on assignment, and obviously not as taken with the band's antics. Finally he finds his muse in an elementary school teacher jumping up and down as they play. He tries to draw her out. There are uninformative exchanges, so she says something along the lines of, "here's the thing: they make me jump up and down," and off she pogos.

You folks are just jumping on the inside.

FD: I tend to be indifferent to B&S's work, though I still like Tigermilk and have to admit they can whip up an infernally catching number when they get to it these days.

Posted by wcw at September 4, 2006 12:28 AM

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