Belle and Sebastian have always been comfortably there. Some of the buzzy bands I’ve discovered at university have since lost their sheen, and I have naturally moved on from some of my sullen teenage obsessions, yet the warming music of the Glaswegian group has always felt permanently baked in. If You’re Feeling Sinister, the sophomore album that Belle and Sebastian singer Stuart Murdoch describes as “probably his best collection of songs” turns 25 this month, and it exemplifies the earnestness and idiosyncrasies of the band that has so enchanted its devotees.

I can’t remember the first time I heard this album, as Belle and Sebastian are, for me, an inherited interest, played invariably during car journeys and kitchen discos throughout my childhood. My Dad, however, tells me his first brief taste of the band came through Mark Radcliffe’s late night radio show, a broadcaster I would speculate has had the greatest influence on his taste. The turning point came at a later house party, when a work colleague convinced him to buy the album. This colleague was cool, extremely intelligent and had the respected, West Wing-esque job of ‘speechwriter’. And so, as is often the case with people we admire, his recommendation carried extra prestige. During the next office lunch break, my Dad listened to the album at his nearest HMV and promptly bought it. He has bought every single Belle and Sebastian album since. Not to mention, my twin sister Belle is named after the band.

The song "If You're Feeling Sinister" is a fan favourite, and explores the hopes and pitfalls of trying to find meaning in lifeYOUTUBE/ JEEPSTERRECORDINGS

If You’re Feeling Sinister undoubtedly showcases some of the best Belle and Sebastian song-writing. Central to Murdoch’s lyricism are his stories of imagined ‘smart but misunderstood’ female characters. The most notable is “Judy” who closes the album by recounting the pleasure she gets from dreaming of horses. We’re also treated to the perspective of a frustrated partner in “Seeing Other People” who ponders whether she’d be better off dating girls as “at least they know where to put it”. The song “The Stars of Track and Field” tells the success story of a professional runner who is resourceful in realising her ambitions: “when she’s on her back, she has the knowledge to get her into college”. The desires and strategies of these women, while occasionally crude, are more complex and ambitious than their small-town situations. The men around them sexualise, patronise, and fundamentally let them down. It is perhaps no surprise that the music of Belle and Sebastian has been used in two of my favourite ‘manic pixie dream girl’ films, 500 Days of Summer and Juno. Summer and Juno, just like in Murdoch’s songs, are more intelligent and likeable than the pining and dull male characters that surround them.

“[Murdoch has] a unique insight into interiority and repressed aspirations”

Of course, these common depictions of “effortlessly” quirky women are often clearly and regrettably written by men. The ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope is notorious for its unrealistic male projections and there is something quite irritating about the particular brand of male self-deprecation and female reverence that can border on the woe is me, nice guys finish last sentiment. Fortunately, Murdoch avoids this predicament, affording a generosity and attention to detail in his song-writing that means these stories never feel like parodies. These songs were written during Murdoch’s long bout of chronic fatigue, which left him unable to work for seven years. The resulting isolation and periods of reflection seem to have given him a unique insight into interiority and repressed aspirations, in a way that makes this album feel all the more intimate.

Murdoch’s voice is soft, slightly nasally, and very sincere. It would feel mean to call his performance quite ‘beta-man’, and yet there is certainly something unassuming and pleasant about his delivery. This Elliot Smith-type shy aesthetic is personally more comforting than the arrogant lad rock also popular in the 90s. These vocals are set against jangly guitar, delicate drums, and the occasional mosaic of sound effects, all of which complement but never overwhelm the central song-writing.

I could wax lyrical about the merits of this album but, at its core, the memories related to it are what have made it so personally enduring. Watching the band with my family at the 2016 Green Man Festival is talked about with loving reverence in my household, and their headline gig at the Royal Hospital Chelsea the following year was an equally special moment. We all have very different music tastes, so it is rare and lovely to have something we can all sing together (no mean feat as, barring Belle and Sebastian, my Dad claims to never listen to lyrics).

Seeing Belle and Sebastian headline Green Man festival was a special memory, with the show featuring one of their biggest stage invasions yet!YOUTUBE/ VST271

The songs in If You’re Feeling Sinister feel particularly poignant to my family’s trajectory. The music is soaked in the feel of Glasgow, with Scottish jingoism cropping up in, for instance, Murdoch’s description of “falling against the lonely tenement”. My Mum was the sole Scottish representative of the family, until my sister first moved into halls at the University of Glasgow, and it was of course Belle and Sebastian that sound-tracked the long journey to this venerated city. The title track’s discussion of the search for Christianity coupled with mundane images like the “people watching on the telly” combines two of my Dad’s primary comforts: church and TV. And I think that, in the mixing of internal contemplations with quotidian routines, there is always something big or small for listeners to relate to.


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There is also a profoundly coming-of-age feel to If You’re Feeling Sinister, with its characters exploring who they are and what their ‘thing’ is. They grapple with new relationships, moves from hometowns, religious questioning, and feelings of loneliness. And it’s not lost on me that this album has presented itself to my family members during crucial life moments, heavy with big questions. My Dad discovered it at age 25 when he moved to London for the first time to work at a proper office job. My Mum learnt about Belle and Sebastian when she first met my Dad, a defining moment for many reasons. And for my sister and I, the experience of this album is perhaps the most ‘coming-of-age’, being a constant staple throughout our adolescence.

I’d always had the impression that Belle and Sebastian were a relatively unknown secret shared just by family, and so it was surprising and comforting that, as I grew older, I met friends who shared a similar fondness for the band. Murdoch is right when he implores: “if you’d only sing along, then I would be happier”. The best experiences of music are shared and sung in unison, and I have spent much of my life trying to find people to share my favourite artists with. Luckily, with Belle and Sebastian, I’ve never had to look too far.