I remember the day Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant arrived at the Splendid offices. I had to show three forms of identification, submit a DNA sample and pass a retinal scan before the large safe that contained my copy of the CD could even be taken out of the Matador truck. The safe was opened by three Matador employees, each of whom knew only a third of the combination. Gerard Cosloy himself carried the CD inside and, using a specialized process developed for Matador by NASA, encoded my copy of the disc with a unique software-based transponder that would cause the disc to self-immolate if played in any stereo system but mine.
Alright, perhaps I'm exaggerating a little. Actually, the disc arrived with little or no fanfare -- but with my name inscribed, in indelible black marker, on the CD jacket and the face of the disc, effectively depriving me of the Hawaiian vacation I could've taken after selling it on eBay.
By now, you're almost certainly wishing I'd quit woffling and tell you if Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant is any good.
The answer is yes, it is. In fact, it's the best album-that-takes-its-title-from-a-Drew-Barrymore-film (Ever After) that I've heard so far this year. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
The standard Belle and Sebastian orchestral folk-pop sound is largely unchanged, though the somber "The Chalet Lines" drags it into previously unexplored dimensions of ribaldry. As with most B&S albums, there's an undercurrent of self-conscious randiness here, mostly divulged in sidelong fashion -- though "The Model", dancing around the concept of blindfolded lovemaking, unloads the line "It was the best sex that she'd ever had" so conspicuously that you're sure B&S want to give you aural whiplash.
"Beyond the Sunrise", an Isobel Campbell-penned tune, sprawls ornately, making room for tubular bells admidst its strings and reverent chorus. Fingers squeak across acoustic strings so loudly they'll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and the song builds to an emotional peak in its final seconds. "Don't Leave the Light On Baby" drapes Isobel's vocals over a nearly-funky wurlitzer line, backed by lush strings; though it squanders the potential of a massive, brassy finish, it's still quite grand. "Nice Day For A Sulk", though precisely the sort of title that makes mocking B&S pitifully easy, manages to be quintessential happy pop, stabilized by wandering keyboard runs in the depths of its mix.
On an album fairly light on surprises, "Waiting for the Moon to Rise" -- Sarah Martin's songwriting debut -- proves pleasantly alluring, layering breathy vocals over piano and faux-harpsichord to charming effect.
Is it satisfying? Yes...though if you hated The Boy with the Arab Strap, you're not going to find much here that'll change your mind. Ultimately, Fold Your Hands Child... leaves Belle and Sebastian at a potentially dangerous career crossroads: they've become one of those "comfort listening" bands, a state which all too often precedes a complacent lack of musical innovation. It's a short walk from "charming lyrical conceits" and "friendly melodies" to "tiresome lyrical banalities" and "plodding familiarity". I see Fold Your Hands Child... being enjoyed by a lot of people -- and justifiably so -- but B&S's next effort had better shuffle the deck a bit, or risk pushing them over the edge into self-parody.