The other day, Belle & Sebastian’s singer Stuart Murdoch received an email from Carey Mulligan. The actress had sung on the band’s last album, Write About Love, but Murdoch hadn’t heard from her in years so he was pleased and intrigued that she had got in touch again. He opened the email: it was a generic, celebrity-authored charity message asking for donations. Murdoch laughs as he delivers the punchline. Like many Belle & Sebastian anecdotes, it portrays the Glaswegian septet as awkward interlopers on the fringes of real celebrity.
The thumbnail version of Belle & Sebastian is music made for, by and about sensitive misfits. Their miraculous 1996 debut Tigermilk and the subsequent If You’re Feeling Sinister had a delicate, hermetic quality so alien to Britpop it was tempting to see them as a Wes Anderson version of an indie band, a meticulous diorama brought to fragile life.
In fact, they are much more ambitious and robust. Their ninth album, Girls in Peacetime Like to Dance, is a confident, expansive record injected with disco and synthpop and recorded in Atlanta with Animal Collective and Cee-Lo Green producer Ben H Allen. Their last two were made in Los Angeles, where they headlined the Hollywood Bowl. “I think we’re exotic in America in a way that we’re just not here,” multi-instrumentalist Sarah Martin says, smiling. “We’re just average and boring here.”