If you pay any attention to the the UK music press then you’ll know that 2011 is being billed as the Return Of the Guitar Band. In reality, they never went away. Case in point: for the best part of a decade, British Sea Power have been forging some of the finest six string sounds of this, or any other, era. While the mainstream continues to wet itself over The Vaccines’ debut (which, lets face it, was never going to live up to expectation), this Brighton-based sextet have quietly released an early contender for album of the year with the sublime Valhalla Dancehall. Written and recorded in an English country farmhouse and on Scotland’s Isle Of Skye, the album title and cover art are red herrings. This certainly isn’t the world’s first Viking reggae album. What it is, though, is an exquisitely crafted example of leftfield British power-pop.
Drawing inspiration from indie, prog, rock’n’roll, and glam, British Sea Power’s songs take an Orwellian view of the world, trying to expose it for the crazy place it is. Album opener “Who’s In Control?” is a stinging dig at the state of the UK in the post-credit crunch era; not the sort of song you’d catch London’s young C86 revivalists writing. British Sea Power, though, have always been a band apart. Emerging as part of the post-Libertines art-rock explosion of the early noughties, they’re an eccentric bunch that operate very much on their own terms – something that has no doubt played a significant role in their longevity. British Sea Power don’t play by the usual rules of rock. They’re intelligent and literate, with a wry sense of humor that pervades both their lyrics and style.
An album as diverse as we’ve come to expect, Valhalla Dancehall references Bowie, Oasis, and everything in between. Second track “We Are Sound” layers chiming guitars over pounding Joy Division drums before the stunning “Georgie Ray” blurs “Life On Mars” with the epic balladry of Noel Gallagher in his pomp. “Stunde Null” is thumping art-rock in the mould of Franz Ferdinand. Its title means “year zero” and was used to describe post-war Germany in a positive way. A deliberate Krautrock reference, it is further evidence of a band operating outside the confines of what’s in fashion. The album’s shortest track, “Thin Black Sail” sounds like a bunch of English art-school geeks trying to cover Black Flag.
A near-perfect slice of contemporary Britrock, Valhalla Dancehall reveals a band operating inside a similar universe to that occupied by Pink Floyd and Radiohead. Eight years after the release of their debut, The Decline Of British Sea Power (Rough Trade, 2003), the band remain at the vanguard of UK guitar music. Pushing the boundaries at a time when new groups are simply retreading the past, who needs this resurrection anyway?Visit: British Sea Power | Rough Trade
Purchase: Insound | eMusic