Release Date: Dec 2, 2013
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Soundtrack, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
Broadcast on BBC Four in January this year, Penny Woolcock’s From The Sea To The Land Beyond was a glorious hour-plus montage of archive footage captured across the past century, with its focus on the British coastline. Choosing British Sea Power to score the film can’t have been a hard decision. They already had form, courtesy of 2009’s Man Of Aran soundtrack, while, from the name down, the band have consistently captured nature’s ethereality in their music.
‘No man is an island, entire of its self’. It’s a platitude that comes to mind in two respects in regards to Penny Woolcock’s feted film From the Sea to the Land Beyond and the atmospheric British Sea Power score that soundtracks it: firstly there’s the definition of Britishness as island-ness, but also a sense of community and togetherness, united through physical geography. It’s this second aspect particularly that weaves itself through the Brighton sextet’s collaboration with Woolcock to chronicle over a 100 years of Britain and Britons’s fascination with the sea through archive BFI footage.
British Sea Power’s latest release is the soundtrack to a mesmerising film by Penny Woolcock, which captures scenes and dramas by the British coastline from 1901 until the present day. Bringing us through two world wars, peacetime, industrialization and social change, with snapshots and snippets of archival footage, she tells the story of the people living along the coasts of this island, the film itself seeming to teeter at the edge of story-telling, film-making and memory. It is a strange way to hear a new album, and yet entirely fitting for British Sea Power, given their history of recording in small coastal towns and an existential connection to the sea and its stories.
Whether screening Powell and Pressburger films before their gigs or holding album launches in village pubs, indie-rock mavericks British Sea Power are seldom less than interesting. Sometimes, the sextet can be too ambitious, but this soundtrack to Penny Woolcock's film about the history of Britain's coastline from 1901 to the present day is BSP at their most haunting and restrained. Abrasive one minute (Melancholy of the Boot), orchestral the next (The Islanders, Heroines of the Cliff), From the Sea comprises new versions of old songs, most of which sound just as powerful without Woolcock's arresting images.
If you were going to make a film about the relationship between the ocean and British culture, choosing the band British Sea Power to do the soundtrack might seem a little too on the nose for some folks, but it turns out director Penny Woolcock knew just what she was doing. British Sea Power's score for Woolcock's From the Sea to the Land Beyond isn't the first time they've written music for film -- in 2009, they wrote and recorded a new score for Robert J. Flaherty's classic (staged) documentary Man of Aran -- and as before, the group reveals a rare gift for building atmosphere and emotional intrigue with its music.
British Sea Power's rather schizophrenic identity has arguably been their commercial undoing. On one hand there's the indie group capable of writing songs with rousing choruses... but possessed of just too much strangeness and smart to really cross over into the territory occupied by the more mainstream groups who, as Roy Wilkinson's excellent Do It For Your Mum rockography painfully points out, often once them.