by A.J. Duric
With up a tree — the debut album that followed the very loop and doodle Sub Pop 7 inch, "Impossible Things" — Stuart David from the underground pop sensation Belle & Sebastian is the first to make a break from the mother band to explore beatspeak. If Arab Strap is the "A" of beatspeak and the Beastie Boys are the "Z," then looper definitely falls under "S" for "simply synthy." It’s about a groovy little interplay of words, sounds and beats that are cut up and then arranged to twist and turn your perception of danceable pop. It’s about the sometimes unexpected meshing of ideas. After listening to the cut, "Festival ’95" you’ll wonder why James Brown didn’t think to try his hand at harmonica funk.
Still, the focus on the mechanics of music means melodies are sometimes lost in the groove. "Ballad of Ray Suzuki," "Burning Flies" and "Columbo’s Car" travel the thin line of background EZ listening versus "this is music, so listen up!" And when you do listen up, you start hearing the details, like the lovely, early-Boo Radleys-ish fuzz in "Burning Flies" and in the slick title track "up a tree." Or like the Etch-a-Sketch curls of synth in the driven "Ballad of Ray Suzuki."
Making music for looper is literally child’s play — play that its fans can join in on by trying out the looper Web site. As Stuart and looper partner Karn say, "It’s not hard. Anyone can do it, really." Yes, anyone can do it, but some can do it better than others.