At the start of their career, Belle and Sebastian seemed to exist in the same sort of pleasantly maudlin time capsule as an old pair of mittens or a Wes Anderson movie. The seamless beauty and consistency of their first few albums made them instant old pros, sliding their lazy afternoon tunes alongside the twinkly ballads of Nick Drake, the Velvet Underground, and the early Rolling Stones.
Belle and Sebastian eventually got bored with the formula, thus bringing about their surprisingly exuberant rebirth on 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress and its almost funky follow-up, 2006’s The Life Pursuit. Most fans were sympathetic to the new direction, but some pined for the old days, before Isobel Campbell went off to make dust bowl records with the dude from Screaming Trees. And so, for these fans in particular, Matador is offering up Belle and Sebastian’s BBC Sessions, a collection of raw cuts from 1996-2001.
Far from a beginner’s compilation, these alternate takes are mainly for the obsessive completists who find charm in the inferior performance of a familiar arrangement. Classics like “The State I Am In” and “Slow Graffiti” sound lovely enough, but their similarity to the originals makes the shabbier production seem like a highly unnecessary new experience. The real draws here are the four lost gems from the band’s 2001 sessions, including Campbell’s spooky swan song, “Nothing in the Silence,” and a quirky fanboy tribute to the Go-Betweens (“Shoot the Sexual Athlete”) that’s not so much a great song as a it is an awesome excuse to hear one of my favorite bands give props to another one of my other favorite bands. So sue me.