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As the years march on I become more difficult to please. With such a rich history of Rock, Pop and Indie behind us, it is quite difficult for bands to come up with something really new. That's not to say that music is only good if it's never been done before, not at all, but if you are going to be derivative, you have to be pretty good at it, otherwise there will be plenty of bands in the back catalogue to listen to before people get to you.
This year I fell for British Sea Power, a little late as they released their 3rd album in January, but it is not often these days that I get truly excited about a band.
You can hear a lot of influences in the music, probably different people will hear different things, but I can hear the Buzzcocks, The Jam, Sonic Youth, the Lightening Seeds, and Blur. There is nothing particularly revolutionary in the sound, but they are well crafted songs and they do make a quite beautiful noise. What really makes the band stand out for me, though, is their attitude. They are very enthusiastic about their loves, and their loves are not conventional: fell walking, bird watching, Montgomery and Betjeman. The songs on the album are also unconventional in their subject matter, but poetic in a subtle and confusing way. They are also faintly nostalgic, in a warm and very English way.
A classic example of all this quirkiness is the track 'Canvey Island', which is about a flood that took place in that area in 1953, or rather about any kind of unexpected disaster 'brace yourself for storms and summer drought'. The song starts slow, quiet and deliberate 'H5N1, killed a wild swan. It was a kind of omen, of everything to come', but the song builds until the guitars at the end ring out in a way not unlike my old favourites, Sonic Youth.
Another classic example is 'The Great Skua' which is an instrumental named after a sea bird. The song rolls and soars so that you can hear the ocean crashing and picture the great bird flying overhead.
There are, of course, more conventional indie rock songs on this album - the album really kicks into gear with 'Lights out for Darker Skies' which opens with a great riff. Yet whilst you may think you're heading for a bog standard, but very catchy, indie track, the lyrics take you somewhere different ('we dance like sparks from a muzzle' and 'we'll fill our fluorescent sails'). The change in tempo and mood towards the end of the song builds into a crescendo of guitar that shines like the 'history of light' of the lyrics.
At times their lyrics are quite impenetrable. 'No Lucifer' (one of the singles from the album) is a gentle song that doesn't bear much interpretation, with it's references to Carlton Corsair and Raleigh Twenty (bikes from the 70s - presumably from the band's youth), The Anti-Aircraft Brigade, Hitler Youth and Silk and Cyanide (which I believe is a reference to the book by Leo Marks about a World War II cryptographer). It also features the chant 'Easy, easy, easy' a throw back to Big Daddy wrestling performances. It's almost as if they've thrown everything in to see what'll stick. I'm sure it must all means something, but I'm not going to analyse too hard, I just like the nostalgic quality of the subject matter.
'Down on the Ground', 'A Trip Out' and 'Atom' are all more straightforward, all well crafted songs, each with a different sound (I hear Lightening Seeds, The Jam and The Buzzcocks respectively), each evoking their own images
People have said they can hear Arcade Fire in this album, and there is good reason for this - the band worked with Howard Bilerman, who produced for Arcade Fire. And yet, this is a sound that the band had nurtured in earlier albums, before Arcade Fire's success, and also the track that I think sounds the most like Arcade Fire (the superb single 'Waving Flags') is one of the 3 tracks on the album that was not recorded with Bilerman.
'Waving Flags', is ideal single material. It's anthemic, with its soaring guitars and choral style backing vocals. It's an anti anti-immigration song, 'Oh welcome in, cross the Carpathians'.
The album closes with 'We Close Our Eyes', a kind of reprise of the opening track 'All in It' which is in itself a sort of rallying call to arms.
British Sea Power have never made it big and as I watched them play live, spellbound, in the Komedia in Brighton, all the years of gig going, album buying, commuting, child-caring and everything else just ebbing away, I simply couldn't understand why they are not massive.
The overall sound of the album is big, anthemic, lyrical. It is wind-swept and weather beaten, much like the British countryside, it's a call to arms and a protest song. The sleeve notes give some insight into their thinking (I believe the subject is the title of the album), here's an extract:
Ah, those blue remembered hills. Oh the blues of all creation. There is Iggy and there are the igneous rock formations of Hellvellyn, Bowfell and Dollywagon Pike. There is Black Francis and there is Black Sail Pass, Black Beck Tarn and Black Cuillin - the latter a dark beer, brewed on Skye....
To British Sea Power, rock music is as much about the influence of the rugged, awesome, permanent British landscape as it is about the influences of the great musicians that came before them. These influences ring out in what is an astonishing album.
Do You Like Rock Music? When it sounds like this, I love it.
For a long time the band British Sea Power have been somewhat misunderstood by both the industry and the public. First off all its their name, which doesn't say rock or indie quite like the names 'Led Zepplin' and 'The Libertines' might do. Then theres the lyrics. The word 'random' gets thrown around a lot today without being true. British Sea Power fortunately can be labelled this. After all, what other bands choose to sing about gulls and collapsing ice shelfs, combined with references to Fyodor Dostoevsky and Canvey Island FC? Its this randomness which makes British Sea Power one of the most intruiging bands around today. If you want melody and a riff or two, whilst getting educated about Bernard Montgomery then this could be the four-man indie rock group you've always wanted. Joy Division have been likened to them but BSP are much cooler. They had a lead singer called Ian and BSP has one called Yan.
Do you Like Rock Music? is the bands latest effort, cementing their unique sound with this hour long feast. There are moments of magic, notably the song 'Atom' which with its brilliant narrative and blend of rock perfectly manages to sum up the album. Other highlights include the fantastic 'Waving Flags', as well as 'Lights out for the darker skies'.
Do You Like Rock Music? is lyrically left-field (songs dedicated to eastern european migrants) which probably rules out it ever troubling the single charts. Instead, expect to see the band fronting a nationwide tour very soon with festival appearances along the way. If you can, make sure to see them before the tide goes out again on this wonderful band.
1. "All In It"
2. "Lights Out for Darker Skies"
3. "No Lucifer"
4. "Waving Flags"
5. "Canvey Island"
6. "Down on the Ground"
7. "A Trip Out"
8. "The Great Skua"
10. "No Need to Cry"
11. "Open the Door"
12. "We Close Our Eyes"
You will love if you like- Arcade Fire, Pixies, early 1980s indie, learning about british history
You will hate if you like- Scouting for Girls, Rianna, Adele, Girls Aloud etc
(also on ciao as carneypingu)
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 All In It
2 Lights Out For Darker Skies
3 No Lucifer
4 Waving Flags
5 Canvey Island
6 Down On The Ground
7 Trip Out
8 Great Skua
10 No Need To Cry
11 Open The Door
12 We Close Our Eyes