JUN 15 | Belle and Sebastian and Japanese Breakfast
JUN 15 | 7 PM
For more than 25 years, Belle and Sebastian have endured as one of music’s most beloved indie-pop bands. Their latest release, A Bit of Previous (2022), is a collection songs and melodies that can make you smile and ponder. These “Scottish sovereigns of indie pop” (Rolling Stone) make their Wolf Trap debut alongside Japanese Breakfast.
Japanese Breakfast has won acclaim from major music outlets for releases Psychopomp (2016) and Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017). Their most recent album, Jubilee (2021), earned two Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album.
Rounding the bill is the cumbia-psych inspired outfit from London, Los Bitchos.
ABOUTBELLE AND SEBASTIAN
A Bit of Previous (2022) is the 10th studio album by Belle and Sebastian and their first full-length in seven years. This may be surprising to anyone following the recent life pursuits of the Glasgow seven-piece: The Boaty Weekender—a 3,000 capacity star-studded four-day music festival on a cruise liner sailing the Mediterranean; a trilogy of EPs; a soundtrack for the directorial debut of The Inbetweeners’ Simon Bird; a live album showcasing the band’s present-day iteration as savvy main stage entertainers; and in 2020, a collaborative project with fans called “Protecting The Hive.” But in all these idiosyncratic endeavours, as intrinsic to the band’s DNA as the stage invasion at the end of each of their shows, a full-length has eluded fans.
A Bit Of Previous is a classic Belle and Sebastian album, preoccupied with songs and melodies that won’t leave your head and lyrics that can make you smile and ponder and sometimes be melancholic. It’s an album self-produced and recorded by Belle and Sebastian (with contributions from Brian McNeill, Matt Wiggins, Kevin Burleigh and Shawn Everett) and their most hands-on since The Boy With The Arab Strap (1998).
In some respects, A Bit Of Previous is also a first. It’s the first album the band recorded in their native Glasgow in 20 years (the last being 2000’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant). What started off as a pandemic necessity—having to ditch plans to record in California in spring of 2020—became a refreshing change of pace. Unbeholden to restrictive and expensive studio schedules, it allowed for long walks through the streets and parks of Glasgow and spontaneous train journeys to nearby towns which embedded proceedings with a peculiar sense of place. The band upgraded their practice space to a makeshift studio, making some creative interior design choices to keep it pandemic safe.
A Bit of Previous is Belle and Sebastian taking on age and getting older and emerging all the more vital for it. “Young And Stupid” is a stuttering acoustic rocker that without its lilting violin might be mistaken for a T. Rex song, the lyrics and nonchalant vocals facing the passage of time with wry ennui. “Come On Home,” with its fireside piano and conversational exchanges between Murdoch and Martin, evokes a handing over of the generational baton.
While the arrangements are often playful, there is an underlying gravity. The deceptively feelgood, choir-backed “If They’re Shooting At You” reads like a poignant ode to defiance and survival. On Martin’s “Reclaim The Night,” a jaunty backbeat tells of a cross-generational every woman trepidation that, in 2022, is more pertinent than ever.
A Bit of Previous is also scattered with big, occasionally delirious pop moments. “Unnecessary Drama” rips through a cacophony of overdriven riffs and a droning harmonica that borders on the unhinged and is one of the band’s heaviest outings since, well, ever. The 140+ bpm “Talk To Me, Talk To Me” is ablaze with euro synths and keyboard horns as the voices of Murdoch and Martin intertwine on a breathless chorus. “Working Boy in New York City” exists in a parallel universe where the band did in fact make it to California—such is the escapist bliss of its sloping flute and bittersweet funk.
On the other side of the spectrum are some of Belle and Sebastian’s most moving ballads. Tender finger-picked paean to a lover “Do It For Your Country” and doo-wop-inflicted “Sea Of Sorrow” showcase Murdoch’s tenor at its most bare and affecting, while Stevie Jackson contributes lovelorn country waltz “Deathbed of My Dreams.”
So what is A Bit of Previous? It’s a bit of everything, and a lot of what makes Belle and Sebastian so special and enduring. It’s a band tackling the insight, experience, and responsibility that come with getting older with humour, irreverence, lyrical exactitude, and musical bravado. It’s one of the U.K.’s most beloved pop portraitists asserting themselves as an infallible source of energy and fun.
There’s a touch of Buddhism too, a practice increasingly influential on Murdoch’s outlook in recent years and given a further manifestation via his popular weekly guided online meditation sessions. The album title is possibly a reference to the concept of reincarnation. As Murdoch notes in the liner notes: “There is a firmly held belief in Buddhism that we have been reborn so many times and in so many guises that if we look around us, we are bound to see a person who has been our mother in a past life. And we are surrounded by people who have been our children. If we truly had that in our minds and in our hearts, we would drop the prejudice we had, our attitude to strangers and difficult people would alter emphatically.”
ABOUT JAPANESE BREAKFAST
From the moment she began writing her new album, Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner knew that she wanted to call it Jubilee (2021). After all, a jubilee is a celebration of the passage of time—a festival to usher in the hope of a new era in brilliant technicolor. Zauner’s first two albums garnered acclaim for the way they grappled with anguish; Psychopomp (2016) was written as her mother underwent cancer treatment, while Soft Sounds From Another Planet (2017) took the grief she held from her mother‘s death and used it as a conduit to explore the cosmos. Now, at the start of a new decade, Japanese Breakfast is ready to fight for happiness, an all-too-scarce resource in a seemingly crumbling world.
How does she do it? With a joyful noise. From pulsing walls of synthgaze and piano on “Sit” to the nostalgia-laden strings that float through “Tactics,” Jubilee bursts with the most wide-ranging arrangements of Zauner’s career. Each song unfurls a new aspect of her artistry: “Be Sweet,” co-written with Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum, is a jagged, propulsive piece of ‘80s pop that’s followed by a sweetly melancholic ballad in “Kokomo, IN.” As she rides a crest of saxophones and synthesizers through “Slide Tackle,” a piece of nimble pop-funk run through a New Order lens, Zauner professes her desire to move forward: “I want to be good—I want to navigate this hate in my heart somewhere better.”
In the years leading up to Jubilee, Zauner also took theory lessons and studied piano in earnest for the first time, in an effort to improve her range as a songwriter: “I’ve never wanted to rest on any laurels. I wanted to push it as far as it could go, inviting more people in and pushing myself as a composer, a producer, an arranger.” She pours that sentiment into the album from the very beginning, weaving a veritable tapestry of sound on the opening track “Paprika.” To build such an anthem of self-actualization, Zauner maxed out the technical limits of her recording rig, expelling her anxieties and egoism with layers upon layers of triumphant horns and marching snares. “How’s it feel to be at the center of magic? To linger in tones and words?” she ponders, conjuring the widescreen majesty of Kate Bush. “I opened the floodgates and found no water, no current, no river, no rush!”
Later, on “Savage Good Boy”—a kooky, terrifyingly prophetic jam co-produced with (Sandy) Alex G—Zauner reduces the excess of modern capitalism to an emotional level, sarcastically imagining the perspective of a billionaire trying to convince his lover to join him underground as the apocalypse unfolds. “I want to make the money until there’s no more to be made/And we will be so wealthy, I’m absolved from questioning/That all my bad behavior was just a necessary strain/They’re the stakes in a race to win.”
“I don’t want to weave politics into my music in a way that feels cheap, but I couldn’t make something that doesn’t comment on the reality we live in,” says Zauner. “I think that you need to push yourself to care, and that’s part of what this album is about: if you want change, in anything, you need to go to war for it.”
At the end comes “Posing for Cars,” one of the longest, most visceral Japanese Breakfast songs to date. In its muted opening, Zauner quietly re-embraces impassioned facets of youth—wistful daydreaming, fierce loyalty—atop a bed of slowly-strummed guitars. Those same feelings pour out of her fingertips as she erupts into a cathartic, nearly three-minute-long solo to close out the record, with gradual swells of distortion that evoke the arena-sized guitars of bands like Wilco or Sonic Youth.
Jubilee is an album about processing life and love in the quest for happiness, and how that process sometimes requires us to step outside of ourselves. “Savage Good Boy” isn’t the only time Zauner takes on a persona; on the cavernous masterpiece “Posing In Bondage,” she imagines a woman left behind in the confines of an empty house, traversing the blurred lines between domesticity and dominance as she sings to an absent lover. Meanwhile, “Kokomo, IN” was written from the perspective of a small- town Indiana boy, forced to say goodbye to a girlfriend who’s shipping off to study abroad. But throughout Jubilee, Zauner is hardly fictionalizing her lyrics, instead pouring her own life into the universe of each song to tell real stories, and allowing those universes, in turn, to fill in the details. Joy, change, evolution—these things take real time, and real effort. And Japanese Breakfast is here for it.
Los Bitchos are a cumbia-inspired psychedelic rock band from the UK. During the lockdown, the four band members were quite busy recording their debut album Let The Festivities Begin! (2022), produced by Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos.
With an arsenal of new tracks and a crazy tour schedule, they’re chomping at the bit to get out and play live again, and of course release Let The Festivities Begin! (2022) into the wild.
Championed by the likes of Cheryl Waters, Khurangbin, King Gizzard, Marc Riley, She Shreds, Vogue, NME, DIY, and SXSW, Los Bitchos are set for a massive 2022.
Before lockdown they band wowed crowds supporting the likes of Mac De Marco, Ty Segall, Viagra Boys, Bill Ryder Jones, Dry Cleaning, Kikagaku Moyo, and Methyl Ethel. “It’s impossible not to have a good time watching this band,” wrote DIY Magazine.