33 ⅓ Scott Plagenhoef – If You’re Feeling Sinister

I’ve had this book sitting here for ages, unread. Since it sits close in the loose alphabetization of this band series, I figured now was as good a time as any to finally get to it.

***

I generally like these 33 1/3 series of books (the very few that I’ve read, anyway). They’re written by fans, about albums that matter in the general fabric of music. They’re kind of like condensed opinion piece Masters theses that would otherwise never have been written (without, sometimes, all the academic fluffery that go with it).

However, this book is a little different, in that more than half of it isn’t even about this album or its songs. Oh, it’s about Belle And Sebastian, alright, but the author spends a lot of time talking about the (personal) struggles of being a fan of a band that went out of its way to avoid press and promotion, and how it was to be a member of a fledgling message board about the band in the early days of the internet at large. Also, collecting MP3s is hollow compared to collecting albums, apparently. It’s an overall look, sure, and probably meant to give a sense of the times, but I kept thinking ‘when are you going to talk more about the album at hand?’

The first half of the book also talks almost exclusively about the previous album, Tigermilk, so much so that I’d wager that there doesn’t need to be a book about it in the 33 1/3 series. The author sees the two albums as inextricably linked, that IYFS wouldn’t have happened without Tigermilk, integral to the beginnings of the band and this scene. Sure that’s probably true, but at only 105 pages, you might talk more about the album in question. 

There’s also some about how the early 90s was dominated by loud and aggressive music, which is true for many, and how that affected folks who are of a more gentle mindset. Twee versus grunge, I guess, stereotyping most ‘rockers’ as unable to empathize with women and have a softer side. It even references a passing scene in the film High Fidelity when Jack Black hears them playing Belle And Sebastian in the store, says it sucks, and shuts the record off (an opinion, the author feels, that stuck for many people). As a listener who likes both styles of music, I think it’s interesting and somewhat sad that the best argument against those who dislike it is to basically revert to the childish “I know you are, but what am I?” argument. Indie-er than thou, much?

It does do a good job of curating the impression that there is a real intelligence, reason and meaning behind the lyrics and the music of this band, and it does humanize something most people probably assume is corporate music. It gives us a bit of the band’s history I hadn’t otherwise known (read: sought out), but it sometimes comes across somewhat as well-worded, persuasive hurt feelings, that the band should have been more popular than they were/are, more communicative than they were, and that the big mean old world just doesn’t understand empathetic people, that we’re special for liking them and you’ll just never understand us.

That’s just my impression. Your mileage may vary. Me, I’d say you’d be better off listening to the (excellent) album yourself and forming your own opinions – or not, maybe you just want to listen and enjoy without attaching all the baggage. 

20 thoughts on “33 ⅓ Scott Plagenhoef – If You’re Feeling Sinister

  1. stephen1001 says:

    Both those albums are on the 1001 list – I listened to & enjoyed both several years ago but haven’t been back since. I recall particularly enjoying the title and the song, Stars of Track & Field!

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  2. Vinyl Connection says:

    Excellent and helpful review, Aaron. I have the 33 ⅓ on order for the book/album group I’m in, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Like you — and indeed, like albums — expectations play a huge part in one’s experience. I’m grateful for your overview as it will help me adjust how I come to the book. Thanks also for the spoiler about Tigermilk. I’ll try to get hold of that album in advance.

    With the ‘Court and Spark’ 33 ⅓ I just finished, the author spent the first third on the two predecessor LPs, ‘Blue’ and ‘For the Roses’. I enjoyed it because I know ‘Blue’ and dug out ‘Roses’. but it can be frustrating. I have found myself wanting to yell ‘Get on with it!’ a couple of times.

    Cheeers
    – Bruce

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      Uh oh, I hope I didn’t colour your thoughts on it too much in advance! As I say in there, your mileage may vary. I hope it’s good for you!

      The weirdest one was the Led Zeppelin IV book. Man, that guy was out there a bit lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. J. says:

    I keep meaning to get one of these books (the Gentlemen or American Recordings entries) but never get to it. Anyhoo, Belle & Sebastian never rocked my boat, but I have a few pals that like them a great deal (and they swear by this album though I could never really get with it).

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      Yup, the folks who are into them really love ’em, but they’re an acquired taste. Me, I like ’em enough to play ’em ever now and again but their albums I had didn’t survive the culls. There’s always YouTube.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Aphoristical says:

    I think they have plenty of fans out there – they’re never going to be a huge mainstream band. I remember taking a car trip with friends and all bringing CDs along – I played a Belle and Sebastian and another guy thought they were the worst band ever. To be fair I didn’t like his INXS greatest hits either.

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  5. jprobichaud says:

    I still have never read one of the books in that series. By the sounds of it, though, this one would not be a good place to start. Great album, though.

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      After posting this, perhaps it was a bit negative about it – it’s still well-written, it maybe just didn’t meet my own expectation. Excellent album, though, for sure. And more books in this series are required to fom an opinion – there are only three or four here at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. jprobichaud says:

        I’ve browsed a few of them at the Chapters but never took the plunge as yet, maybe I’ll have a look to see if there’s any to read electronically.

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