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Belle and Sebastian Girls In Peactime Want To Dance Matador Records

A charting indie-pop group with a loyal cult following: Belle and Sebastian always seemed like a secret society with an open door policy. This album sees the band attempt to put some distance between themselves and that undercover world, venturing onto the dance floor with pulsing 4/4 beats and Europop hooks (yes, you read that correctly). Lead-off single The Party Line, with Murdoch’s caramel vocal wrapped in a slickly produced foil of precisely separated synth swirls, cowbell rattles and jittery disco guitar lines, along with the galloping synth epic Enter Sylvia Plath, dangle like luminous mirror balls in the more familiar sonic town hall constructed by many of the other tracks.

Spritely and aesthetically inquisitive, sure, but these poppy turns are ultimately neither here nor there. Belle and Sebastian have always known how to write infectious and intelligent pop tunes, and while the florid dance stylings don’t detract from that, they don’t really bring much either. Girls… is saved by its optimism, Nobody’s Empire, written about Murdoch’s battle with chronic fatigue syndrome, is politely euphoric, despite its advertising jingle sheen. Ever Had A Little Faith? is unadulterated hope.

Such melodious whimsy might sound out of place against the backdrop of austere electronica which defined 2014, but it’s credit to their artistry that Belle and Sebastian never sound naïve. With trademark wit, humour and optimism, they’ve weathered all storms. As we enter a pivotal year in Britain, the standing of Girls… may well rest on whether that hope can be redeemed.