Stuart Murdoch's newest brilliant project God Help the Girl is a narrative sang from classic female characters who each hit precisely the voice and personality that carry Belle & Sebastian's subtle wit and irony laced indiepop with an all out, retro pop glamour. But it's not simply a side project, each of the songs from God Help the Girl stands on its own as a classic, with a rose-sepia tone, a charming world with a vintage touch and storyline rich and vivid. It captures the elusive literate girl, one who is born to be contrary, who picks the deceptively simple but beautiful soundtrack with immaculate care.
The album opens with God Help the Girl's retake on Belle & Sebastian's "Act of the Apostle," its stripped vulnerable beauty the perfect introduction to Catherine Ireton's voice, and the classic pop sensibilities of the swirling back up girl choruses, the escalating clamor of the strings to set off the frustrations with the ordinary meant in the song. Then, of course, "God Help the Girl," the theme if there ever was any to the impossible to predict, over analytical, sweet but contrary girl whose vision plays out in the album. The melodic delights and twinkling staircase of pianos and strings that leads to the refrain and beg for "all the help she can get" makes it a worthy title track to be replayed and remembered. "If You Could Speak" is a quiet, understated lullaby for a summer evening, snaps and whistles in between pretty soft vocal harmonies with a simple persistence.
"Musicians Please Take Heed" and "Perfection as a Hipster" tackle darker tones, swirls of instruments mirroring narrative tensions. "Perfection as a Hipster," despite its tongue in cheek title, is a dangerous dance between a boy and a girl, a dream lost, an uncertain memory accompanied by heavier lower tones, juxtaposed fear and frustrations, warnings and the nave dreams of the boy in the song.
The last few tracks on the album reiterate this portrait of a girl, her fears and aspirations, romances and losses, reality coated with pure pop and stories with wonderful melodies. "A Down and Dusky Blonde" highlights the contradiction of Stuart's girl and the movie characters our time usually dictates, with its alternating mix of beautiful female voices each telling a line of their life. This mesmerizing blend is the perfect way to end the album, and these characters and voices are as real as the flourishes of sounds behind them, as real as every line's echo of truth even out of the context of the songs, as real as the film Stuart has not yet made but already created with this gorgeous album. -Laura Yan