ALBUM REVIEW: British Sea Power – Let The Dancers Inherit The Party

british sea power

Mercurial art-pop and post-punk auteurs British Sea Power return after a four year break (excluding soundtrack work) and they sound wholly refreshed and focused on their sixth album. There’s a cohesive sound to the rousing guitars and propulsive drumming as they take stock of the world around them and the role of the individual in it all. It’s steeped in their trademark melancholy, yet framed with an uplifting optimism. It takes a few listens to dig beneath the shimmer and fuzz but when you do there’s wonderful collection of compelling indie rock songs awaiting you – Keep On Trying (Sechs Freunde) being the alt-disco pick of the bunch.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: British Sea Power | Valhalla Dancehall

written by Chris Familton

British Sea Power have always been a curious band with their inventive stage costumes, gig locations and a seemingly grab-bag approach to the form their music takes at any given time. Their early anthems like Remember Me led many to paint them as rousing post punk Brits in the vein of Franz Ferdinand but they would then take a left turn into atmospheric art-led allusions to nature, space and various mysteries of the world. They took that to its logical conclusion with their last album, the Man Of Aran soundtrack to a 1930s documentary about life on an Irish island. There they explored similar sonic territory as Mogwai and Dirty Three where mood and weight of emotion is paramount. All of this brings us to 2011’s Valhalla Dancehall and possibly their most complete album to date. All of the aforementioned aesthetics and musical touchstones are still present and accounted for but here they combine them in such a fashion that it really feels like an ‘album’ – the kind that gives a sense of journey with ups and downs, triumphs and despair.

They pretty much nail the record closed on the one hour mark, usually the sign that a band has stretched themselves too far. Here though it doesn’t feel overlong, even though they could have lost a couple of tracks and it would still feel like a complete album. The opening Who’s In Control is a surging wave of guitars, somewhere between Big Country and The Psychedelic Furs with its themes of the current political and economic world strains, informed rebellion and protest. It sets the tone for the album which is in many ways a response to this opening dispatch. We Are Sound continues the rallying cry and call to some kind or arms but it doesn’t manage to stir the passion the same way as the previous song.

Stunde Null is the first proposal by the band, a directive to start afresh and collectively dance and party as a solution to the world’s current malaise. The title refers to the ‘zero hour’ when West Germany was created in the aftermath of World War II. Such a grand analogy seem  bold but British Sea Power have always aspired for grand poetic gestures. The song is also the closest they get to those Franz Ferdinand comparisons that have dogged them from time to time. The guitars squiggle and jerk over the tumbling drums as if there is an urgency and rush to get things started.

The first truly magical moment comes with Luna. It is one of those songs that becomes instantly memorable on the first listen. It sets out down a different path from the style of the preceding tracks and conjures up images of dimly lit and near-deserted provincial discos – in the manner that Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker write of so cleverly. Scott Wilkinson draws comparisons (as they do often on the album) between the human condition and nature, specifically space. Recording on the Isle of Skye in East Sussex the band endured a bitterly cold winter, cocooned by nature in the studio and local pub where inspiration for some of the album’s characters was surely found.

Smashing Pumpkins is an unlikely comparison to make with BSP but Baby recalls those tender, drifting slow burners like Suffer and Luna that Corgan managed to write before his descent. It stands out from the ‘shouting from the ramparts’ moments and the Suede-esque indie swagger but it works wonderfully by bringing everything back down to earth and at the same time allowing the ethereal to take over. They repeat the same mood changer on Once More Now, an 11 minute epic that begins like an outtake from Man Of Aran before gently quickening into a breezy paean to persistence and keeping on in the face of life’s knock-backs before dissolving back into a 4 minute vaporous sea of reverb, echoing notes and otherworldly sounds and ending brilliantly with the words “Fuck ‘em”.

Any other band would end the album there, it seems like the right thing to do but BSP can’t help but add a footnote with Heavy Water that feels like the start of another album. Delightfully arch, primal in their own perverse manner and rousing in it’s intention, Valhalla Dancehall is the work of a band reconciling its many diverse strands and ending up all the stronger for it.

this review first appeared on FasterLouder

REVIEW: BRITISH SEA POWER @ Manning Bar, Sydney 20/01/10

photo | Jessica Cheng
reviewed for The Dwarf

A shrunken Manning Bar in the form of false walls greeted punters as they arrived for British Sea Power. I’m not sure if this is a permanent change to the venue or just a way to make an undersold gig feel fuller than it was. It seems to be a bit of a recent trend with the Metro also dividing the back of the room for a similar purpose.

Regardless, there was a decent enough smattering of people to witness the support slot from Bridezilla’s Daisy M Tulley. Performing with just an acoustic guitar, violin and loop pedal she impressed with her aching and mournful folk-tinged songs. Her voice was a treat and sounded much more world weary than her appearance would suggest. With songs like If I Had A Child and There Will Be Sadness she veers close to raw emotion and despite some stage nerves she delivered a gorgeous set.

British Sea Power are one of those bands that seem to forever bubbling under, never quite going overground to mass success. For the diehard fans that is probably how they like it, they have their own secret idols and there was definitely a section of the crowd who were there to worship.

The biggest regret of the show was that they didn’t venture into the instrumental post rock of last year’s Man Of Aran soundtrack, a haunting and stately piece of work. Regardless they did put on an entertaining show after a fairly subdued start. It was as if the crowed were tentative and waiting to be impressed rather than immediately engaging with the band. Mid set things seemed to change and the band and audience both relaxed.

Early highlights were the breezy pop of Blackout and a surging Remember Me, possibly the best song the band have. The choppy Apologies To Insect Life seemed to be the catalyst for everyone to really get involved. It stood out from many of their songs and was a knife-edge example of great visceral post punk.

Waving Flags showed they can write a rousing indie anthem and it had the core enthusiasts losing themselves in euphoric arm waving down the front. All good things must come to an end and British Sea Power finished off with an extended outro while guitarist banged his instrument on his head, made gaffer tape bridges from the stage to the crowd and wrapped tape around his head before surfing across the heads of the punters. It was a surprisingly freewheeling finish from a band that seemed fairly restrained for most of the gig.

British Sea Power were probably let down by being booked in a venue too large, Oxford Art Factory would have been a much better location. In spite of a lack of real connection and atmosphere they showed they had the songs and the presence to make an average show turn out pretty good.

REVIEW: BRITISH SEA POWER – Man Of Aran

ds album reviews

1 2 3 4 5

333Bands soundtracking old movies can be a bit of a hit and miss scenario. Too often they fall into the trap of pretentious and dramatic flourishes and try to create an ambient or pseudo-classical sounding collection of music. British Sea Power have done just that but in their case they are working with a piece of film that calls for just that response.

Man Of Aran is a partly dramatised 1934 documentary about the people of the Aran Islands off the eastern coast of Ireland. Shot in stark black + white it tells the story of families fighting the elements and living off the land and ocean; harvesting potatoes and hunting basking sharks in wild seas.  Many of the practices seen in the film had long been stopped by the islanders so director Robert J. Flaherty used locals to act out many of the scenes where traditional methods, like the shark hunting, were used.

The documentary won the Grand Prix at the 1935 Venice Film Festival and British Sea Power have attempted to give the film a suitably grand musical soundtrack. They dispense with many of the rock trappings that characterise their sound and utilise piano, strings and haunting percussion and effects. In a nutshell this is post-rock of the Mogwai, Godspeed variety with some Dirty Three flourishes thrown in, especially when the tempo lifts during the steady build of The South Sound.

One of three 11 minute pieces, The South Sound is rich with measured, almost krautrock drumming and some incessant violin playing which heightens the mood. When heard with the accompanying DVD it reflects perfectly the wild and dramatic environment of the islands. The wind and waves crash and swirl, as does the music.

The DVD really is essential viewing as a piece of cinema and also to do justice to the music. Heard alone, it has its peaks like The South Sound but it can tend to drift a little too much and lose focus. With the stark monochromatic images adding another level to the music there is a real connection and the subtler passages become all the more effective.

The rise and fall of actions and emotions in the film are matched by the music. During the shark hunting scene the monstrous rollicking Spearing The Sunfish pounds on with barely controlled chaos before relief is found in the soothing and beautiful melodies of Coneely Of The West.

The final track No Man Is An Archipelago encapsulates all the themes and styles that British Sea Power use through the album. It swells with an epic sweep much like Mogwai and Sigur Ros at their finest and it symbolises the triumph over adversity theme that is at the centre of both the film and its music.

Experiencing the band playing the soundtrack live at a screening would no doubt be a moving experience but thankfully in this digital age we still get to experience what Flaherty and British Sea Power have created. It is a testament to both that the result works so well, even if the creation of their art is separated by 75 years.