Release Date: Mar 31, 2017
Record label: Caroline / Caroline International
Much loved indie group British Sea Power have returned with a collection of songs that showcase the strongest elements of their music, giving listeners space for contemplation while also bringing a healthy dose of high-energy rock. Exquisitely crafted, the album's introductory instrumental track is an extension of closer, "Alone Piano," providing seamless repeated listens, but there's plenty in the middle to love, too. Lead single "Bad Bohemian" is upbeat, with an '80s influenced bass line, and Yan Wilkinson's melancholic lyrics: "It's sad now how the glass looks rather empty / The formulation of the elements makes you yearn.
After scoring a documentary on the role of the ocean in English culture and consciousness (2013's From the Sea to the Land Beyond) and collaborating with a traditional U.K. brass band (2015's Sea of Brass), one could have been excused for thinking British Sea Power had gotten out of the business of playing rock & roll. But as part of their formula of periodic stylistic change, they've circled back around to their trademark variety of U.K.
The term 'cult' is chucked about an awful lot by journalists these days. Apparently, every musician with a large enough following to sell out medium sized venues is the leader of some wacky, offbeat cult. This labelling obsession has spread far and wide, with writers now calling street food 'cult eating', mindfulness 'cult breathing' and power naps 'cult sleeping'.
It’s been four years since we last heard anything from British Sea Power, but tenth album ‘Let The Dancers Inherit The Earth’ is every bit the embodiment of empowered pop-rock perfection that its title suggests. Created against a backdrop of “politicians perfecting the art of unabashed lying, social-media echo chambers, click-bait and electronic Tonka Toys to keep us entertained and befuddled,” the album takes wide-eyed escapism and directs it into making the moment we’re in as majestic as can be. “You’re no longer asking why,” Jan Scott Wilkinson sings on ‘International Space Station’, a cry out against the ambivalence it can be oh-so-easy to fall into.
B ritish Sea Power's first album of new material in four years was written against a backdrop of what guitarist Martin Noble calls "politicians perfecting the art of unabashed lying, social media echo chambers and electronic toys to keep us befuddled", and it brims with pre-Brexit panic. However, there is more hope than despair, as the songs look to ordinary people to escape "international lunacy". There's real vim in these tunes - their most direct in years - and they dart along with the emotional vigour of vintage James or Echo and the Bunnymen.
There have been few louder pro-European voices in rock'n'roll over the years than British Sea Power's: in 2004, to celebrate the entry of Czech Republic into the European Union, the Brighton-based sextet released a Czech language version of their track A Lovely Day Tomorrow, while 2008 saw them showcase third album Do You Like Rock Music? with a performance at the Embassy of Czech Republic. Stirring single Waving Flags waved the flag for multicultural bonding and boozing ("Are you of legal drinking age? On minimum wage? Well, welcome in…"). The band's entire back catalogue is rich with allusions and references to great European minds, artists and music: in a memorable case of "don't meet your heroes", a collaboration with Krautrock cranks Faust ended in some post-show fist throwing.
During the post-punk revival of the early '00s, when all their peers were looking back to 1979, British Sea Power charted a course for 60 years earlier. Forget calling your band Franz Ferdinand--the BSP lads dressed like soldiers from the war that the Archduke's death started, and they made music to match. At once caustic and epic, the group's stellar 2003 debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, seemed to obliquely romanticize Old Europe while hinting at the unspeakable carnage its leaders would instigate.
For the past 14 years, British Sea Power have invited us to escape our current reality by retreating into a past one. Their Chariots of Fire chic is the least of it--British Sea Power records are invitations to unplug and bask in the beauty of nature, learn useful random phrases from foreign languages, and educate ourselves on forgotten events confined to history's dustbin. (Ironically, this has the effect of prompting you to go online to brush up on the significance of, say, the German term "stunde null," or investigate what exactly happened on Canvey Island in 1953.) Notwithstanding the occasional forays into film soundtracks and brass-orchestra one-offs, British Sea Power's music has remained similarly impervious to the modern age.
British Sea Power has cultivated a reputation for drawing on esoteric cultural and historical references for musical and conceptual inspiration, and in this, Let the Dancers Inherit the Party does not disappoint. The videos for the first two singles “Bad Bohemian” and “Keep on Trying (Sechs Freunde)” arrive with visual artistic purpose, both rooted in weird, frenetic, animated collage art, both inspired by Dadaism in general and (the press release reveals) the work of German artist Kurt Schwitters in particular. Sechs freunde, we learn, is the German term for “six degrees of separation”, the band itself composed of six members, the number six appearing throughout the video in cryptic and curious ways, folded into all the usual military and nautical imagery.
Expecting the unexpected can work in the favor of bands like Radiohead, U2, and R.E.M. They build up a reputation for trendy experimentalism that is met with enthusiastic anticipation by their fanbase. But for a band on the fringes of the indie rock scene without a conspicuous fanbase, not knowing what to expect can be a cause for concern. Since British Sea Power have achieved varying degrees of success with past projects that include moody Britpop, arena-ready rock, film soundtracks, and retreads with a full brass orchestra, listeners will no doubt approach the unexpected of Let the Dancers Inherit the Party with some trepidation.
In the years following 2013's Machineries Of Joy, British Sea Power seemed to enter a period of self-analysis. Two documentary soundtracks saw them rework favoured motifs into new forms, while Sea Of Brass reconfigured BSP landmarks to fit brass band arrangements. Though the generously expanded reissue of their debut - under the promising The Compleat British Sea Power, Vol 1 banner - was a masterclass in how reissues should be done, it also began to seem as though the group were getting too insular; serving up gifts for the faithful and forgetting that, at their best, they could be a great unifying force.
About a week ago, shortly after hearing Let The Dancers Inherit The Party for the first few times - and still uncertain about it in my fanboy sort of way - my partner and I sat down to finish the third season of Halt And Catch Fire (a show about maladjusted programmers working in the earliest days of online gaming). It's 1990, and our protagonists find themselves at a party thrown by Atari. Here's how I remember it: the DJ throws the Pixies' 'Velouria' on the single turntable, everyone starts jumping up and down, exuberantly spilling red cups of beer, maybe they're singing along, rejoicing in the sort of ebullient community and commonality outsiders always feel when grouped together in fictions.