Tigermilk was recorded four years ago and has finally been re-released on CD by Matador Records. It sounds unpolished, but as of this writing it's the best album I've heard in about five, maybe ten, maybe fifty years.
It's pointless to make any Nick Drake, Velvet Underground, or Smiths comparisons. They don't suit a band like Belle and Sebastian, who have truly convinced your correspondent that they are in a league of their own.
How good is this album? Well, for the old-timers our there, I wish I had had it back in the 70's when I rode that aged elephant over the African Savannah, cool breeze fanning my seared cheeks, the sky and land glowing surreal green. That was the first time I saw a bandersnatch.
But nevermind that. From the opening "The State that I am In," Stuart Murdoch and his sun-drenched tenor blend flawlessly with Stevie Jackson's golden lead acoustic and your taken through 10 songs recorded by a bunch of amateurs who sound like supremely confident professionals. We all know the story: Album made for a college economics class in Glascow, pressed onto 1000 vinyls, (one of which was recently taken for $1200 on an internet auction), and all the rest. All this, though, is truly peripheral. The music stands alone like a monument to some musical magic that the rest of us haven't discovered.
"Six months on / the winter's gone / the disenchanted pony / left the town with the circus boy" Murdoch croons on the album's second best song, "My wandering days are over." What the hell is he talking about? I'm not sure. And you don't really care when a low key-trumpet and recorder and cello meander in the background with such artful ease. You hum and tap your foot steadily. The sun rolls out from behind some distant cloud.
The most experimental song on the album is the best one, which is always the truest indicator of a band's promise. "Electronic Renaissance" uses an echoing vocal distortion to a catchy Pet Shop Boys beat and the tune is almost discoish groove. "Monochrome in the 1990's/ You go disco and I'll go my way," Murdoch observes in a wry post-E, lost 90's, commentary. The truth hit me on this song: On his first record, Murdoch outdoes Morrisey and Jarvis Cocker and the Velvet Underground all rolled into one. It's breathtaking, really, the talent and the nonchalant poise.
If there's anything to be said about this band's progression, it's that maybe with the release of this first album, coming as it has on the heels of the critically acclaimed "Boy with the Arab Strap" and "If You're Feeling Sinister" the band can roll into a kind of regression. To the roots, if you will. The Arab Strap had all the elements of Tigermilk but the crucial naivete and the quick and loose play. Belle and Sebastian play their best tunes off the cuff -- the worst thing that could happen to these guys is to get them in a studio with some perfectionist producer fiddling with the sound 'til it loses its original intent.
And, if the band can do so while experimenting with whatever floats into their mind, as it appears they did on "Electronic Renaissance," then some other distant universe will be these guys limit.
USOUNDS | 7.28.1999