Belle and Sebastian Days of the Bagnold Summer

[Matador; 2019]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: mumblecore revival, twee muzak, adolescence
Others: Real Estate, If You’re Feeling Sinister, the good parts of The Graduate OST

If it weren’t for the film’s IMDb page and a single teaser clip posted to YouTube, it’d be easy to mistake Days of the Bagnold Summer for another proper full-length entry in Belle and Sebastian’s discography. Even the monochrome, vacant-eyed portraiture on its sleeve fits uniformly into the Scottish band’s catalogue, while the forthcoming indie flick’s synopsis reads like one of the short stories frontman Stuart Murdoch slips into his liner notes.

Bagnold, based on Joff Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel, is a slice-of-life piece about a listless teenage metalhead and his anxious single mother; settings include libraries, shoe stores, and diners. Could there be a more quintessentially Belle and Sebastian concept? The Belle-verse is rife with horny teenage layabouts with lofty ambitions and a lack of motivation. In lyric form and likely on screen (the movie gets its wide release in 2020), Daniel Bagnold is no outlier, save for his decidedly non-twee appearance.

Days of the Bagnold Summer is Belle and Sebastian’s second crack at a movie score, following Todd Solondz’s 2001 film Storytelling. The former arrives amid a saturated market for movie/album tie-ins “inspired by” their source material, many of them dreadful and forced. Did Billie Eilish or Beck really offer any supplementary understanding to Roma? Does anyone want to listen to Rick Ross fumble through Suicide Squad references over Skrillex production? The answer is no on each count.

Luckily, the connection between the Belles’ interpretation of the Bagnold Summer and director Simon Bird’s is not so loose. Blending instrumental scores with the band’s more traditional fare, comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel’s work on The Graduate are inevitable (and conveniently referenced in the soundtrack’s promotional one-sheet). I’ll raise the stakes and say that the Bagnold soundtrack is overall a more listenable experience than The Graduate’s — Bagnold’ s instrumental filler, which exists in a Venn diagram overlap between Real Estate deep cuts and the Napoleon Dynamite score, is infinitely more pleasant background music than Dave Grusin’s martini-soaked lounge dreck, which bookend Paul Simon’s best-loved hits.

The new lyrical offerings here are solid, especially in the soundtrack’s first half. “I’ll Keep It Inside” and “Safety Valve” are charming returns to early form, swimming in reverb and adolescent transgression. “Did the Day Go Just Like You Wanted,” with its throbbing brass section, is one of the better literal retellings of a film synopsis this side of Christopher Cross’s theme for Arthur.

Bagnold’s sterile production, however, doesn’t conjure the same snuggly warmth of records like If You’re Feeling Sinister, which becomes abundantly clear when a re-recorded version of “Get Me Away from Here I’m Dying” sounds dishearteningly skeletal in comparison to its 1996 predecessor, brimming with misplaced optimism and vintage pop grit. On the heels of the genre-splicing How to Solve Our Human Problems EP series, a late-career breakthrough that incorporates drum-and-bass breaks and synth-pop melodies, there’s a sense that Belle and Sebastian played the score a little safely, save for the sparkling baroque-pop standout “Sister Buddha.”

Of course, that’s likely an intentional decision. In the context of the movie, I foresee the beloved tropes of Belle and Sebastian’s first three or four records triggering the growing pains and teen angst I so associate them with. Divorced from that concept, though, Days of the Bagnold Summer plays like a b-sides compilation with a few cuts worth revisiting. Like the Storytelling OST, this one’s strictly for the heads.

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