Few bands can claim the unyielding devotion that Belle and Sebastian inspires in its fans. And few groups have produced a catalog so reliably engaging. Today we’ll be parsing the sharp character sketches and reinvented retro sounds in an effort to rank all nine of Belle and Sebastian’s studio albums in order of awesomeness.

Forming a group in school is a proud tradition for rock’s most intellectual bands, from Steely Dan to Radiohead, but how many have begun as an actual school project? That’s the origin story of Belle and Sebastian, which was started by frontman Stuart Murdoch in 1996 to record his final project for a music business course at Scotland’s Stow College. Murdoch recruited a band from fellow students and named the group after a French TV show. None of the seven members expected Belle and Sebastian to make more than a couple of recordings.

But that was before any of them realized how Murdoch’s insightful outsider portraits and the group’s blend of ’80s cool and ’60s style would connect with indie rock fans. While suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the years prior to the band’s formation, Stuart wrote songs as an outlet for his anguish. His observant lyrics spoke up for the little guy (and girl), depicting the disenfranchised, the sexually confused and others for whom it took great effort simply to coexist with society.

In the course of Belle and Sebastian’s two-decade run, Murdoch’s compositions have maintained an outsider perspective, always delivered in Stuart’s fey, folksy croon, as if the singer-guitarist is letting us down easy about the weight of the world. Although the band has grown to incorporate glam flourishes and dance beats, it has rarely lost sight of its core charms: gentle melodies and incredible storytelling. Let’s take a gander at Belle and Sebastian’s brilliant career.

More From Diffuser.fm