Belle & Sebastian score ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’

Belle & Sebastian
Days of the Bagnold Summer (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Matador Records · September 13, 2019

The newest release from seasoned, indie-pop band Belle & Sebastian is the bittersweet, mellow soundtrack for the film Days of the Bagnold Summer, a British coming-of-age comedy set to release next month based on the 2012 novel by Joff Winterhart. This film gets added to Belle & Sebastian’s impressive track list of movies and TV shows featuring their songs, including Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Devil Wears Prada, One Tree Hill, and Gilmore Girls, to name a few. However, this is only their second full album created entirely for a film (the first being their album Storytelling, which was the score for the 2002 film of the same name).

Belle & Sebastian’s signature musical and vocal style makes them the perfect candidates for creating a film soundtrack. Their melodies and lyrics are bittersweet, and the instrumentals are easy on the ears, enabling the music to either blend into the background or effectively highlight the tumultuous emotions present in a film about adolescence. Lead singer Stuart Murdoch’s voice is gentle and almost instrumental in nature, and easily fits into a composition for a music score.

Ignoring the context of the album being a soundtrack, and strictly speaking of the sound and content itself, Days of the Bagnold Summer pales in comparison to the energy of some of the band’s  past albums. Its sound is consistent with Belle & Sebastian’s musical history and demonstrates their ability to maintain their distinctive style, but it shows little evolution from the album preceding this one (How to Solve Our Human Problems, Parts 1-3). After a few of the songs, the first half of the album starts to blend together, due to a consistently slow tempo and somewhat pared-down instrumentals. Though for many people these characteristics are disqualifiers for casual listening, for a soundtrack these are all accomplishments. The ease of one song into the next makes sense for an album that will be heard as a full, in-order body of work when viewers see the movie. The less elaborate instrumentals allow the album to support a film, rather than distract movie-goers from the plot.

Despite the lack of distinction between some of the songs, there were a few standouts that made the album shine, even as a separate entity from the film. “Jill Pole”, one of the instrumental pieces on the album with no lyrics, stood out due to its full, almost orchestral sound. The melody is played on a harmonica, which is in a higher range than the rest of the instruments. Halfway through the song, a lower violin and a plucking banjo come in, creating a dynamic soundscape. The end of the song slows down, and right as the song is about to stop, the instruments soften and ease into a new key in preparation for the next song. After spending three minutes capturing the listener in a trance, the last chord pulls them back out to remind them that this is a movie soundtrack, where no song truly stands alone and each one is part of a larger body of work.

Midway through the album, listeners are blessed with “Safety Valve”, the second real stand out from the collection. “Safety Valve” has a faster-tempo than most of the album’s other songs, reminiscent of iconic past hits like “Sukie in the Graveyard” (The Life Pursuit, 2006) and “The Boy with the Arab Strap” (The Boy with the Arab Strap, 1998). Between verses, a violin uses arpeggios to climb back and forth between major and minor chords, creating  solemn interludes as interruptions in the otherwise mostly major chords. It’s simple, but extremely beautiful. During the quieter, pensive bridge of the song, vocalist Sarah Martin harmonizes on the lyrics, “I’m not in a good place, I know I’ll get better / but just for tonight, take me away,” creating a multi-dimensional, thoughtful break in the music before diving back into the song.

The rest of the album includes some interesting songs, like the ethereal “The Colour’s Gonna Run”, and the eerie, quiet “Another Day, Another Night.” “Sister Buddha” will also likely catch the listener’s attention before the album concludes, with its louder electric guitars, twinkling synth noises, driving beat, and trumpet harmonies.

Overall, the album sounds perfectly suitable for a film about being a teenager in a world that  feels like a stressful place, which is the exact situation that ultimately brought many listeners to Belle & Sebastian’s music. Though they might not be bringing anything new or unheard of to the genre, the band’s long career has permitted them to take a break from attempting an innovative music-maker status, given the prowess that they’ve already accomplished and the reputation that they’ve upheld. Days of the Bagnold Summer represents Belle & Sebastian’s durability in the music industry as consistent, reliable artists, and their fans and movie-goers alike will be able to see that.

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