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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Belle and Sebastian - Days of the Bagnold Summer (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Music Album Reviews

The indie-pop veterans mix together classics, rarities, some new songs, and instrumentals for the original film soundtrack.

Belle and Sebastian have soundtracked so many real-life depressed teenagerhoods that they practically invented the genre of “songs to stare out car windows to.” This is probably why, in their 23-year tenure as indie-pop royalty, so many movies and TV shows have relied on their songs, from Juno to High Fidelity to “The O.C.” and “Gilmore Girls” and beyond.

Their original film soundtrack Days of the Bagnold Summer will feel familiar to anyone who’s heard the band underscore a dreamy montage sequence. The film, an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name from rookie director and Inbetweeners star Simon Bird, stars Earl Cave (son of Nick Cave) as a teen equally obsessed with metal and moping in the bathtub. His ennui is only heightened when plans to visit his father in the U.S. are canceled and he’s forced to spend summer vacation alone with his mum.

The soundtrack consists of 11 new Belle and Sebastian songs and some instrumentals, along with “I Know Where the Summer Goes,” from the 1998 This Is Just a Modern Rock Song EP, and “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” off of 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister. Also on the album is the ancient and excellent “Safety Valve,” a paean to codependency Stuart Murdoch wrote before Belle and Sebastian formed but had never released. “It’s maybe 25 years old,” he wrote in a press release. “The only time I can remember ever playing it was in a coffee shop with a friend of mine and people scratching their heads.”

Perhaps we live in a time more accustomed to anxiety and excessive emotional dependence on friends, because there’s no need for head-scratching now: The lyrics (“’Cause sometimes I just need a pal/Thanks for being my safety valve… Hey, I’ve been there before/I’ll save you, it’s a serious bore”) nail the feeling of knowing you’re emotionally overburdening a friend but doing it anyway.

Days of the Bagnold Summer’s instrumentals, which comprise the score of the film, are actually are some of the album’s best moments. “We Were Never Glorious,” a greensleeves-y fiddle track, nails the delicate balance of “hopeful yet totally melancholic” and is just the kind of music suited to walking around pretending you’re in a movie.

The new songs, meanwhile, feature a return to form for Belle and Sebastian, whose more recent releases have ventured away from their trademark style of “puckishly depressed” and into explorations of the dancy, the jazzy, and, occasionally, the kinda bad. No one can blame them for wanting to experiment, but it’s good to see they’ve shelved the synths for this album. When you have Belle and Sebastian soundtrack your film, there’s likely a particular sound you’re after, and the band doesn’t disappoint.

Some numbers, like the excellent “Sister Buddha,” seem like “Classic Belle and Sebastian”—vivid storytelling conveyed through pithy lyrics and sprinkled with empathy. “Step across the lonely threshold of your selfish mind,” Murdoch instructs “Sister Buddha,” “and embrace the loving goodness of your human kind.” Okay! Good advice.

Others, however, sound like “Belle and Sebastian doing an impression of Belle and Sebastian.” “Did the Day Go Just Like You Wanted?” seems a bit like an older outfit trying to recapture the tone they’d perfected in a younger iteration. Lyrics like “When the tears roll down on your cheek/You know you’re alive/Let the rain pour down/Let the winter come” feel on the nose in a way they’ve never been before.

Perhaps it’s the lyrical complexity of the “oldies” on the album that throw this particularly into focus, making the newer songs seem relatively facile. Which isn’t to say those songs aren’t good—just, it’s hard to beat the champs, even when you are the champs. “Nobody writes them like they used to,” Stuart Murdoch sings on the re-recording of “Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying,” “so it may as well be me.” Good point.

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