Belle & Sebastian make quirky, delicate, beautiful pop. They tell stories, try to achieve emotional resonance, and have a satisfying instrumental prowess. But the very first adjective is the tricky one. Despite being so impressive, Belle & Sebastian are a band that seemingly requires a particular setting for extended plays. Sunday morning drives, days of quiet reflection lend extra importance and pleasure to their sound. Those times can be hard to find.
At their funkiest (half of the exceptional The Life Pursuit) or their most breathtaking (If You’re Feeling Sinister) this problem can be avoided. But at their tightest and most focused, the band takes on completely different guise, a dark and powerful unit that delivers and devastates.
“I Want the World to Stop,” the fourth track on their 2010 record Write About Love, does just that and is an easy addition to any playlist. The hook, of all places, is in the rhythm section. A tightly wound groove is built of sparse drumming and forceful bass and carries the entire song. In the verses, pained organ pulses hum just below the drums and a wandering guitar pick dances below that. A quasi-chorus eventually picks up as the guitars rise, strings build, and vocals grow and harmonize.
But the real highlight of the song comes at the 2:30 mark. After a lush sound is established, it all drops out except the drums and bass. No organ, no vocals, no strings. And then they rebuild, bit by bit. First the vocals and keys. Then the guitars and strings, until it finally grows and reaches a (proportionally) massive instrumental coda to carry the song to its end. It’s the most effective dropout-rebuild I’ve heard this side of Interpol’s “PDA.”