Few bands inspire geek love quite like Belle & Sebastian. Unabashedly borrowing from the pastoral sound of Left Banke and the fringe of Felt, this Glasgow ensemble more or less incites the towel-snapping crowd with its fey conjecture of '60s pop music.
Yet even with the elitist appeal of a band that, as a rule, never does interviews (and, for a time, wouldn't even pose for press photos), Belle & Sebastian remains a bit of an interloper to peers -- what with the dissonant roots and anti-melody mentality that is so generously welcomed on the indie-rock circuit at large. Formed seven years ago after several unemployed friends won a recording contest at a local college, Belle & Sebastian have become successful beyond their wildest dreams by unintentionally tearing down the punk aesthetic one decibel at a time.
And in that, the collective -- an apt term for the dozen or so shifting players involved in the group at any one time -- has happily embraced its left-of-the-dial status completely, even if it's meant snuggling up outside its own modus operandi.
Case in point: Several years ago, Belle & Sebastian organized the Bowlie Weekender musical festival in England, which featured high-volume acts like Jon Spencer and Sleater-Kinney. The hugely successful event (its moniker an acknowledgement of the bowl-style haircut that stereotypes chamber-pop nerds) has since morphed into the annual All Tomorrow's Parties, marching westward to a date in Los Angeles earlier this spring. What started as a relatively small gathering for musical outcasts has now become a four-day extravaganza of the hippest that hip has to offer, with more than 50 bands hand-curated by indie legends Sonic Youth.
One might think it's only a matter of time before Belle & Sebastian's precious pop style morphs into something bigger. After all, the material that spans the group's four albums and three EPs is the kind of stuff your parents could tolerate alongside the Carpenters -- if they didn't pay too much attention to the lyrics. But B&S haven't broken huge in America -- and it's not just because they don't honey the music press. An obvious reason might be that they don't play the States often. And when they actually do make a trip across the pond, it's usually for less than a dozen shows. That's not exactly the level of exposure that prompts media frenzies on our mall-sprung celebrity shores, let alone in the college- fed clubs and theaters that make up the majority of the underground scene.
To Belle & Sebastian's credit, its membership has kept pretty busy outside the band. Former bassist Stuart David has an electronic project, Looper, and a novel. Multi-instrumentalist Isobel Campbell works with her splinter group, the Gentle Waves, and has recorded an album with Ben Wells. Drummer Richard Colburn hits with Snow Patrol and is an in-demand DJ. Others in the group have done studio work with Future Pilot A.K.A., Teenage Fanclub and V-Twin in the past few years. So who says there's time to play every dive in America with a schedule like that?
This June brings the fourth proper Belle & Sebastian album, Storytelling, a soundtrack to the Todd Solondz film of the same name. B&S's collaboration with the creator of the geek revenge movie Welcome to the Dollhouse would seem to be a perfect musical match. But the band was disappointed when much of the composed work didn't make the final cut.
Yet here they are, touring in support of Storytelling with more dates in the United States than ever before, exploring new audiences, expanding their influence -- and making happenstance a fairly ambitious career.
Belle & Sebastian plays Mon., May 13, at the Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St. 7 p.m. (doors). $23.50-$26. 404-249-6400. www.atlantaconcerts.com.
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