Belle and Sebastian - Late Developers - Matador
Credit: Hollie Fernando
by Andrew Bosma Featured Ledger Line Music

Belle and Sebastian — Late Developers

January 20, 2023

With a history of quick turnaround releases, Belle and Sebastian stays true to form and follows up last year’s A Bit of Previous with Late Developers, an album comprised of recordings from the same sessions as that other recent record. But rather than delivering a set of strictly B-Sides, the band instead offers something reminiscent of their earlier era, revisiting the distinctive sounds that made them popular way back in their ‘90s heyday. Long-standing fans are likely to point to 1996’s Tigermilk as a major watershed moment of both artistic progress and critical success for Belle and Sebastian, and its quickly released successor, If You’re Feeling Sinister, was another major coup for the group, and built even further on the style that they were cultivating at that time. Now, over two decades later, B&S have delivered a similar one-two punch with the release of A Bit of Previous and Late Developers, the former’s sounds and textures neatly and cohesively bleeding into the latter’s.

Sonically, this latest effort is an improvement on its predecessor, marked by a more reflective lyrical sense. Band leader Stuart Murdoch shares writing duties with more of his bandmates than in the past, which has always been an admittedly uncommon approach for a band to take to develop its core sound, but one that has worked exceptionally well for the talented group over the decades. The most noticeable thing on a first listen, then, is that this collection of tracks boasts noticeably catchier melodies than the group has created in over a decade, each song managing this feat in distinctive, varied ways. Belle and Sebastian noodle with multiple different blends of genres, recalling the indie rock roots of their ‘90s work one moment before moving to a more distinctly modern, synth-heavy balladry. Most of this bold meshing of sounds hits, although there are exceptions: Lead single “I Don’t Know What You See in Me” imitates the popular lite-rock sensibilities of the mid-aughts, and it lands with roughly as much swagger as it did at that time. A swing this big feels strangely out of place on this otherwise unassuming album, and is one of the few but obvious moments that would have been better left to actual B-side status.

Still, despite tripping up here and there, it’s clear that after decades together, Belle and Sebastian simply know how to crank out an album of hits. While its release was a surprise, thankfully nothing about Late Developers feels rushed or ill-conceived; rather, this album feels like something of a full circle moment for the band, an album that listeners likely were dreaming of while listening to Tigermilk. It’s a record that is entirely true to the band’s story and sound — one that invokes nostalgia without pandering, and which remains innovative enough to mark a genuine artistic development for the group.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 3.