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Belle and Sebastian 

The Life Pursuit (Matador)

Stuart Murdoch might hook more fans with this pastiche of bouncy pop-gone-by if Belle and Sebastian's reputation didn't precede him. When his Glasgow band broke big in the late '90s, Murdoch specialized in a timid, resentment-tinged melancholy that reflected both the hypersensitivity of aimless, romantic college grads and the alienation of underemployed Scottish youth (call him Holden MacCaulfield). But in 2003 Murdoch turned up and tuned in with Dear Catastrophe Waitress, which Pitchfork labeled "the Belle and Sebastian album for people who never really liked Belle and Sebastian." Ditto for this follow-up: Where once Murdoch spoke for entire classes of unhappy youth, now all he speaks for is his own taste in pop circa 1967-'72, a fascination with small-fry outsiders and a religiosity that seems more sympathetic to doubt than faith. Luckily, he has the rare smarts and talent to make these obsessions speak for him too. A couple of numbers merely ape Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone, but he rides early Bowie, late Motown and classic T. Rex as if he invented them, with lyrics that belie the music's simple rush with their sharp portraits, framed by the confounding mysteries of life that hook us all in the end.

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