Emerging from the Glasgow indie-pop scene, the Scottish band Belle and Sebastian has developed a growing and fervent international following for its gently idiosyncratic music. Tigermilk, Belle and Sebastian’s just re-released first album, shows them at their start.
The album’s opening track, "The State I Am In"—with its catchy, beautiful arrangement and quirky, intelligent lyrics—is in many ways emblematic of the band’s entire body of work. Lead vocalist Stuart Murdoch solemnly sings the first verse over quiet acoustic guitar strums, before the song gathers speed and layers. Chiming electric guitar chords, swells of Hammond organ, and bits of harmony carry the listener along as Murdoch spins out an odd and yearning confessional: "I gave myself to God, there was a pregnant pause before he said okay."
Tigermilk contains several such left field pop tunes. Often boppy, sometimes sweet, it is saved from being cloying by the dry wit of the lyrics and the intriguing textures created by not just guitars, drums, and keyboards, but also cello, trumpet, and flute. It’s a fine album that’s gone largely unheard. Only 1,000 copies of Tigermilk, all on vinyl, were pressed in 1996, when it was first released as a project of a music business course at Glasgow’s Stow College. (To my eternal gratitude, two years ago a friend in Scotland introduced me to Belle and Sebastian with a copy of Tigermilk taped off a friend’s original. Such informal sharing, as well as for-profit bootlegging, finally spurred this summer’s re-release.)