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QUICK SPINS: Primal Scream, Belle And Sebastian

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 28, 2013 3:00PM

Two legendary Scottish bands both released albums domestically relatively recently, so how do the two stack up against each other? Let's see!

Primal Scream
More Light

2013_08_primal_scream_more_light.jpg Primal Scream—while never really huge in America—are one of the most artistically successful bands of the last two decades. The band released an instant classic in 1991 with the genre-breaking Screamadelica and then followed it up with four more albums that could be qualified as modern classics. That's not just a musical Grand Slam, it's a rule changer.

The band has mixed every genre under the sun—dance, rock, funk,noise, punk, free jazz, you name it—to create music that was often danceable, sometimes scary and always compelling. This came crashing to a halt in 2006 with the release of Riot City Blues, a failed attempt at roots and classic rock that showed the band had aged beyond their years and grown inexplicably out of touch with what made them great in the first place. The band re-calibrated and regained their footing with 2008's Beautiful Future, and while the results weren't a match for the band's previous heights you could see that Primal Scream was back in their (dis)comfort zone. And then the band promptly took a couple years off recording to mark the anniversary of Screamadelica with re-releases and celebratory tours.

Which brings us to the band's latest release, More Light. Much like the album's title suggests, this effort shows the band is opening the door wider on their past successes to inform their current musical output, showing a band clearly on the rise again. The nine-minute opener, "2013," clearly sets the mission statement as it mixes a hypnotic dance groove with a melange of intruding sounds, gradually building up into a nightmarish psychedelic free jazz funk stew. The band gets aggressive, tapping into digital hardcore-kite or "Culturcide," and shortly thereafter proves they haven't given up the dance floor with the groovy sing-along / dance-along "Invisible City." Further on, "Relatively" breaks out the hookah only to throw it out the window one quarter of the way through for a far eastern-tinged sonic freakout. In fact, More Light might be too much of a good thing; things get a little soft in the center and by the end of its hour plus running time you're exhausted. A little more focus might have resulted in another classic album to to fill the group's bin of LPs, but we'll take and enjoy the sprawling excellence Primal Scream chose to release instead.

Belle And Sebastian
The Third Eye Centre

2013_08_Belle_and_Sebastian_The_Third_Eye_Centre.jpg The Third Eye Centre collects b-sides and oddities from the last decade of Belle And Sebastian's existence, but it also serves as concise proof that the ensemble led by Stuart Murdoch bears little resemblance to the twee combo that grew to popularity with the indie kids through the 90s.

As witnessed at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival, Murdoch is no longer crying over the girls he can't have—there is lip service given in his current output there but his attitude belies the lyrics he sings on this subject—he's well aware of all the girls he can have. The music mirrors this confidence, and the songs barrel through as pop powerhouses instead of delicate structures threatening to tumble under their own emotional weight. The closest we get to heart on sleeve here is dying the song "Suicide Girl"—which, by the way, just how dated is THAT reference?—and even there the notion shaded more in the narrator's fight against giving into his own "charming" abilities rather than a cry of unrequited emotions. There are lovely little moments, the Avalanches remix of "I'm A Cuckoo" is still a whimsical delight to these ears, but overall the collection fails to hit any emotional resonance, though it does deliver the sonic goods.