Belle and Sebastian

How to Solve Our Human Problems, Pts. 1-3

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On the eve of launching Belle and Sebastian's project How to Solve Our Human Problems, leader Stuart Murdoch explained his band's decision to release a series of three interlocked EPs instead of a long-player with this: "I think these days when an LP comes out, it's kind of disappointing. Nothing seems to happen, and I thought, 'We've got to do something different.'" Murdoch's way to combat the digital grind harks back to Belle and Sebastian's earliest days, when the group released a series of three EPs between 1996's If You're Feeling Sinister and 1998's The Boy with the Arab Strap, but those releases were spaced out over the course of 1997, where each of the installments of How to Solve Our Human Problems arrived in succession in the first months of 2018. Consequently, all three Human Problems EPs feel cut from the same cloth, all buzzing to a stylish good vibe pitched halfway between '60s modernism and '70s disco. Since this is a series of five-song EPs, Human Problems isn't paced like an LP, which is a benefit. Perhaps there are moments that drift, such as the mellow bachelor pad neo-instrumental "Everything Is Now," but they're designed that way, offering color and texture to music that already had a surplus of both. Like any good EPs, the mild throwaways wind up as endearing as the major items on Human Problems, since they keep the 20-plus minutes of music cooking and provide plenty of room for such fetching accents as oboes and analog synths. Taken as a whole piece, though, the striking thing about How to Solve Our Human Problems is neither the finely honed sense of craft -- evident in both the compositions and sharp production -- nor how the group now excels in churning out a disco epic like the six-minute "Sweet Dew Lee." Rather, it's how Belle and Sebastian have completely devoted themselves to joy, squeezing out any remnants of melancholy that may have lingered in their music. In an era of darkness and confusion, such defiant positivity feels bracingly radical.

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