Back in 2003 when the Brighton based boys first released The Decline of British Sea Power, I was fortunate to catch them open up for Bright Eyes at the Shepherds Bush Empire. I was blown away. The intensity of their set along with the completely visceral piece de resistance ‘Lately’ was evidence enough for me to get a copy of the album.
Here we are, roughly seven years later, with their fourth full length album (excluding Man of Aran), Valhalla Dancehall. Along with this release came high expectations, as the 2008 Mercury Music Prize nominees had to pull something special out of the bag to surpass their extensive repertoire.
Valhalla Dancehall opens with a promising track in the form of ‘Who’s in Control?’. With riffs borrowing heavily in style from 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music?, Jan Scott Wilkinson’s unhinged vocals are more reminiscent of 2003’s The Decline Of…. With bizarre screams in-between choruses of “Over here/ over there/ Over here/ Every fucking where”, I was pleased with the direction this album was taking.
Next up, ‘We are Sound’. Beginning upbeat and riff led, progressively drifting into more of a settled, atmospheric venture, not sounding too out of place on2005’s Open Season, it’s a familiar experience. Follow up track ‘Georgie Ray’, is a piano based ballad, led with a more gentle approach vocally by Yan, accompanied with spiraling guitar solo’s and angelic backing vocals.
If the record sounds too mellow for you at this point, you’ll be pleased to know ‘Stunde Null’ leans more towards the creative juices of ‘Favours in The Beetroot Fields’, with it’s almost threatening tempo and the trademark angular guitar riffs we’ve come to expect. The album goes on to showcase the talents and diversity the boys have to offer. ‘Luna’ and ‘Baby’ are again reminiscent of the Open Season era, with their delicate and occasionally sweeping melodies, this time with Neil Hamilton Wilkinson taking on vocal duties.
‘Living Is So Easy’s drum machine beats and keyboard focused sound seems slightly out of place at first, however has soon become one of my favourite tracks on the album. With super catchy lyrics like ‘Living is so easy / Shopping is so easy / Dying is so easy/ All of it is easy’ and ‘Northern girls/ Are you going to the party? / Southern boys/ Are you going to the party?’ how can you not succumb? If you happen to walk past me in the street, there’s a good chance I’ll be whistling / humming/ murmuring this.
The latter of the album is nothing short of impressive. Borrowing from 2010’s Zeus EP, ‘Cleaning Out The Rooms’ is a far cry from the aforementioned electronic ventures which the Zeus EP delves into frequently. With it’s ethereal lyrical approach, stirring violin, persistent drums and eerily soothing backing vocals, it’s nothing short of a classic.
Just incase you got too comfortable, the boys throw another ‘Favours in the Beetroot Fields’ style number in your direction with ‘Thin Black Sail’, before messing with your body’s inner tempo clock and presenting yet another lengthy, soothing creation at you with ‘Once More Now’. Eleven minutes later, we’ve reached our final destination; ‘Heavy Water’.
British Sea Power have released yet another album of eclectic sounds, styles and demonstrate once again why they’re at the top of the British indie rock scene. Creative, atmospheric, original and evolved, they present an array of new songs that will easily compete with their back catalogue. I’ll be catching them at the HMV Forum on February 27th for some more ear blistering feedback heavy shenanigans. I suggest you do the same.
Words: Neil Phillips