Belle & Sebastian's second record, If You're Feeling Sinister, is, for all intents and purposes, really their first, since their debut in 1996 was not heard outside of privileged inner circles. And If You're Feeling Sinister really did have quite a bit of an impact upon its release in 1996, largely because during the first half of the '90s the whimsy and preciousness that had been an integral part of alternative music was suppressed by grunge. Whimsy and preciousness are an integral part of If You're Feeling Sinister, along with clever wit and gentle, intricate arrangements -- a wonderful blend of the Smiths and Simon & Garfunkel, to be reductive.
Even if it's firmly within the college, bed-sit tradition, and is unabashedly retrogressive, that gives Sinister a special, timeless character that's enhanced by Stuart Murdoch's wonderful, lively songwriting. Blessed with an impish sense of humor, a sly turn of phrase, and an alluringly fey voice, he gives this record a real sense of backbone, in that its humor is far more biting than the music appears and the music is far more substantial that it initially seems. Sinister plays like a great forgotten album, couched in '80s indie, '90s attitude, and '60s folk-pop. It's beautifully out of time, and even if other Belle & Sebastian albums sound like it, this is where they achieved a sense of grace.