Release Date: Oct 30, 2015
Record label: Kartel
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
“Heavenly Waters” serves as an immersive intro to the Sea of Brass studio album. The track is full of orchestral matinee drama, undercut by a melancholy organ. Complex and swirling, this opening instrumental number is buoyed by bright brass. The warmth and nostalgia this song exudes signal that British Sea Power are just as interested in paying homage to a bygone age as they are in innovation.
There’s a certain overblown attitude that’s implied by naming your band British Sea Power and filling pages and pages of your CD booklet with an extensive backstory based on the pursuit of your muse. Of course, even if those elements weren’t present to begin with, the flourish and pageantry that’s always been so essential to British Sea Power’s sound would make it seem somewhat auspicious to begin with. Pomp and circumstance have been the band’s calling card since the beginning, starting with their extravagantly dubbed debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, and proceeding through to the present.
While British Sea Power usually let their anthropological interests colour their work, their latest finds them replacing the reliably indie-orientated guitars of their back catalogue with waves of trumpets, horns and other instruments that toot. However, for all the additional bluster, there’s something disappointing in the song selection, leaning more towards slow-burning soundscapes and deep cuts rather than the anthemic rock singles that have always given BSP a solid foundation on which to build their more esoteric ideas. After the bombastic, Bondesque fanfare that introduces instrumental Heavenly Waters, it’s only stomping rocker Atom that manages to raise the pulse above a steady throb.
British Sea Power's signature brand of sepia-toned post-rock has always carried with it a considerable measure of nostalgia, but with Sea of Brass, they may have finally reached official faded wartime postcard status. Released in conjunction with a live DVD of the same name, Sea of Brass sees the East Sussex collective revisiting eight songs from their back catalog and sprucing them up with a full brass orchestra. The studio version of the LP features the Cheshire-based Fodens Band, founded in 1900 thank you very much, while the concert album/DVD, which was filmed at the esteemed London music hall the Barbican, relies on the talents of the Redbridge Brass Band.
British Sea Power’s past adventures have ranged from busking atop the Great Wall of China to playing on the Cutty Sark, so it’s no great leap for them to perform selections from their back catalogue with a 28-piece brass ensemble, Foden’s Band. There are some lovely moments: brass oozes warmth and kettle drums pound to a glorious climax on Heavenly Waters; there’s a touch of foreboding to the new arrangement of When a Warm Wind Blows Through the Grass, and Atom has a pulverising, Beatlesque climax. But elsewhere, the two parties make for less comfortable bedfellows: Machineries of Joy sounds as if the band are trying to play it while an orchestra blares away next door.
No matter what you think of their music, you have to admire British Sea Power’s ambition. They are unafraid to stick out their collective neck in pursuit of a furthering of their particular sound, nor are they fazed by applying that sound to use in other media – their 2009 soundtrack to the 1934 ethnofiction film Man of Aran is a prime example of their esoteric approach to composing and releasing their music. In some ways Sea of Brass has more in common with Man of Aran than with any of their other studio records, by virtue of its roots in experimentation and collaboration.