Belle & Sebastian tribute bands are becoming all too common. The Edinburgh five-piece that takes its name from a Scottish coastal town will most certainly appeal to those who enjoy the sunny folk-pop of Stuart Murdoch and Co. Couple that with Smiths-like lyrics (“Love is a verb and a noun as well/ You’ll find it in the dictionary under ‘hell'”) and you’ve got yourself the next big cliché.
There is something mid-90s about some of Aberfeldy’s songs: If the Lilith Fair were to host a reunion tour this summer, this group, with their frontman Riley Briggs’ mild yodeling on “Tie One On,” would make an appropriate opener for Jewel. And “Heliopolis By Night,” one of the band’s more aggressive guitar-driven tracks, would make an apt starter for the Indigo Girls. In addition, the disconnect between the nursery-rhyme melodies and the lyrics in “Slow Me Down” and “Love Is An Arrow” doesn’t quite work. It’s as if Eminem was to start rapping about flowerbeds and sunbeams, or as if Raffi–singer of such kindergarten classics as “Willoughby Wallaby Woo” and “Teddy Bear Hug”–began singing of cop killas and the ‘hood. Fans have applauded the release as a “summertime” album, but the lyrics invoke more of a “Prozac-time” feel. It seems that Aberfeldy have created the lyrics and the accompanying arrangements separately, resulting in forced and unfeeling tracks.
But Aberfeldy do show promise in their harmonic arrangements. In one of the most compelling tracks on the album, “Young Forever,” Aberfeldy’s lyrics transcend the consistent heart-on-sleeve-model (which is so omnipresent at times you wish someone would perform an amputation) to offer genuine, Kleenex-worthy lyrics set to a lovely acoustic guitar melody. The song suggests that despite all of the social problems (“Come on people what’s a matter with you? / The few got many and the many, few / Keep on acting in the way we do / Then we won’t have anything else to lose), the track suggests love keeps us “young forever,” and it cannot be denied. Unfortunately, this track is the shortest on the album.
Young Forever is, on the whole, conservative and formulaic, and Aberfeldy is capable of much more. Their frontman has a beautiful voice, and they have shown glimpses of what they are capable of instrumentally and lyrically (when their songwriting is a bit more sophisticated than “I love everyone/ Everybody underneath the sun”). The tricky part is getting these elements to coalesce. Hopefully Aberfeldy won’t stay young forever; they will greatly benefit from maturation.