Release Date: Jan 11, 2011
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
There's no denying British Sea Power's bull-headed singularity. They followed their nomination for the Mercury, for 2008's Do You Like Rock Music?, with an obscurant soundtrack to a 1934 film about Irish fishermen; three months ago, they pre-empted Valhalla Dancehall's arrival with Zeus, a seven-track EP of wilful experimentation. Yet what's surprising about their fourth album proper is its apparent lack of surprises.
More epic weirdness, and that’s just fine. Brighton lads British Sea Power have always distinguished themselves from their Britpop compatriots by their literate if head-scratching lyrics. There may not be a band in existence that fuses such musical ambition and epic soundscapes with such arcane, esoteric subject matter (aside from The Decemberists).
British Sea Power's fourth, proper studio album skillfully navigates the middle ground between 2008’s soaring Do You Like Rock Music? and 2009’s wistful, largely instrumental soundtrack for the 1934 naturalist docudrama Man of Aran. Like all BSP records, Valhalla Dancehall aims for the nosebleed section while remaining oddly detached. The band’s penchant for crafting stadium-sized epics without any real hooks was nearly obliterated by 2008’s brilliant “Waving Flags,” which could have elicited goose bumps from a cadaver, but outside of the infectious, Big Country-inspired opening cut “Who’s in Control?,” Valhalla Dancehall remains firmly rooted in the formless, Arctic grandeur that has defined the band throughout the decade.
They’ve perfected their technique of hitching intriguingly odd lyrics to perfect hooks “I’m a big fan of the local library, I just read a book, but that’s another story,” sings British Sea Power’s Yan on ‘Who’s In Control?’ at the start of this album. It’s a nice nod, both to their reputation as somewhat bookish rockers, Alan Bennett fronting the Pixies, and their determination to emphasise their ballsier side. So the best thing about ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ is that they’ve perfected their technique of hitching intriguingly odd lyrics to perfect hooks on ‘Luna’ and ‘Living Is So Easy’.
Every nation needs a shamelessly zealous, heart-pounding guitar troupe to satisfy a screaming cast of thousands. They exist to enrich our otherwise droning lives - a night of riff splendor and light sweeps is really all it takes for the general public to feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth. With a genuine belief that more is more, the godly responsibility behind such a task is meant to accomplish both an otherworldly experience and the justification of shelling a scraping sum of three figures.
British Sea Power's reputation as indie-oddball national treasures is built as much on the eccentric subject matter of their lyrics (large seabirds, Antarctic ice-shelves, Dostoevsky) and their tendency for doing gigs in strange places (the highest pub in Britain, Cornish caves) as it is on their arsenal of post-punk indebted discordant rackets, poised anthems and weathered ballads. However, the title of 2008's top ten-cracking Do You Like Rock Music? hinted at a group more concerned with the basics of their sound than their songs. Despite being mostly successful as a beefed up version of their earlier selves and featuring some of their finest moments to date ('Waving Flags', 'No Lucifer') it also numbered a few by-number rockers that lacked their usual lyrical and musical intrigue in the likes of 'Down On the Ground' and 'A Trip Out'.
British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall British Sea Power play Lee's Palace on March 24. See listing. Rating: NNN Things get off to a rollicking start on the fourth album by Brighton's British Sea Power. Who's In Control? hooks listeners by combining screams with the wish that it were sexy to protest on a Saturday night.
Much was made of the bombast and grandiosity of British Sea Power’s last traditional release, Do You Like Rock Music? The young indie guitar band, guitar in every sense of the word, invigorated their moody historical aesthetic with an unreflective maturity and made one of most satisfying rock albums of the decade, full of epic overstatement and more-is-more sonic layering. It sounds contrarian, but Do You Like Rock Music? worked so well because it was positively dumber than anything British Sea Power had done before. Looking back on the shameless, noisy fun of that album, it’s hard to fight a sense of sinking disappointment with their newest, Valhalla Dancehall.
Unlike the vast majority of bands who rose up around 2003 reviving strains of UK post-punk, British Sea Power actually have a sense of humor, albeit one that's usually way too arcane for the casual listener. 2008's Do You Like Rock Music? was good for a chuckle at its title and not much else, and the band claims "Serge Gainsbourg, and Ralf und Florian-era Kraftwerk with a sprinkle of Stock, Aitken, and Waterman" as primary sonic signposts for Valhalla Dancehall-- acts they sound absolutely nothing like at all, parodying the ridiculously overblown PR bait that hopes lazy reviewers run with it anyway. Now, irony and winking humor does have a place in this grandiose, heal-the-masses rock music-- just witness Zoo TV-era U2.
Having released a slew of critically praised records before hitting the decade mark as a band, British Sea Power exist as an archetypal case of the overlooked cult rock act, even in their native UK market. Since their earliest single, “Fear of Drowning,” they seemed poised to break through as part of that great wave of sophisticated post-punk revivalists that began crashing ashore in the early Aughts. Yet, their sound has never quite achieved the kind of audience that the band’s ambition would seem to warrant.