Longtime fans of the Scottish indie pop act Belle and Sebastian who were underwhelmed by the trio of EPs which culminated in last year’s How to Solve Our Human Problems compilation would be well-advised to give the band’s latest offering a spin. While not a proper “studio album”, Days of the Bagnold Summer, a soundtrack for a film of the same name, does contain eleven new songs that are boldly sequenced amongst re-recordings of two of the band’s best loved early compositions: 1998’s “I Know Where the Summer Goes” and 1996’s “Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying”.
Days of the Bagnold Summer begins with “Sister Buddha (Intro)”, the first of three instrumentals (four if you count the album’s closer which includes dialogue culled from the film). The pretty opener, a gentle acoustic guitar duet, is a slowed down and scaled back version of the album’s excellent first single of the same name. The moody and thoughtful “Did the Day Go Just Like You Wanted?” is the first new song in the sequence to feature vocals, and both Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin sound lovely together. The short “I’ll Keep It Inside” works as a charming teaser just before the album’s superb centerpiece, “Safety Valve”, a song supposedly written by Stuart before Belle and Sebastian even formed. “Hey, I’ve been here before, I’ll save you, it’s a serious bore,” Murdoch sings wryly during the song’s catchy, upbeat chorus.
The soundtrack’s second half opens with “The Colour’s Gonna Run”, and, as if not to break the pattern, the song is another instrumental, this time one tinged with a psychedelic synth and a wah-wah guitar effect. The album’s two weakest moments occur on either side of the reworking of the aforementioned “Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying”. The Sarah Martin-sung “Another Day, Another Night” feels like an unfinished afterthought and is thankfully short. Perhaps it works better in the context of the film. Additionally, “Wait and See What the Day Brings” is a regrettable snoozer. Here, Murdoch’s intentionally lackadaisical vocals roll lazily around a limp groove that includes an awkward, ill-placed saxophone solo. Fortunately, “Sister Buddha”, the soundtrack’s aforementioned first single, shows up in time to turn things around. The track’s rhythm and tempo are reminiscent of Pulp’s “Disco 2000”, and each time the chorus comes around, Murdoch’s vocals soar majestically, and the feeling is palpable. Without a doubt, “Sister Buddha” is as good as, if not better than, any song the band has released in the last half-decade.
The album’s penultimate song, “This Letter”, is a jazzy bossa nova number that comes across like a downcast indie pop take on “The Girl from Ipanema”. Here, Murdoch utters lines like, “Though the world is fucked, according to the news, doesn’t get you out of what you have to do.” Utilizing dialogue taken directly from the film, the otherwise instrumental “We Were Never Glorious” makes for a pleasant closer that manages to put an optimistic ending on the entire affair. Overall, Days of the Bagnold Summer, while not perfect, is a refreshing collection. Belle and Sebastian show that they still have a lot to offer and aren’t afraid to hold fresh ideas up next to a pair of beloved early compositions that helped establish the modest yet passionate following the band has enjoyed for nearly a quarter of a century.