City Paper is not for tourists
British Sea Power
“I love your iridescent sheen,” sings British Sea Power vocalist Yan midway through “Be Gone,” the second track on his band’s new album, Open Season. In typically oddball style, he’s apparently referring to a gleaming French Revolution–era guillotine. But he might just as easily be talking about the Brighton-based quintet’s unexpectedly revamped sound. Its first album, 2003’s The Decline of British Sea Power, was by turns spastic and serene, featuring squalling, neurotic rock on one track, glossy and grandiose pop on the next. Combined with a deeply felt connection to Anglo-Saxon pastoral tradition and a taste for wearing World War I military uniforms, the schizophrenic approach established the band as a bunch of delightful eccentrics. On this, their second LP, they have resolved their personality conflict in decidedly melodic fashion, coating things with a honeyed glaze of glowing synths and chiming guitars. Some credit for that should probably go to producer Mads Bjerke, who’s conjured similarly heavenly sounds out of the likes of Spiritualized and Primal Scream. But some should certainly go to our one-named vocalist, who’s shifted from manic stammering to a gentle crooning reminiscent of a subdued David Bowie, and to guitarist Noble, who’s softened up his stabbing riffs without abandoning his signature off-kilter approach. Open Season’s hook-laden opener, “It Ended on an Oily Stage,” features a jolly guitar line, plenty of cymbals, and Yan singing mysteriously about someone who “found God/In a Wiltshire field.” “Please Stand Up” is built around another jangling guitar lead and swooning synths that might have embarrassed Journey. And despite its veddy British title, “Victorian Ice” is whimsically countryish, with a shamelessly cowpunk beat and earnest suggestion to “hold your baby’s hair.” None of these relatively conventional sounds mean that BSP isn’t still plenty peculiar, however—in fact, the pop-song settings serve to make the lyrics seems all the weirder. “Oh Larsen B,” for instance, is a love song to a very real 12,000-year-old ice mass currently crumbling into the sea: “My favorite foremost coastal Antarctic shelf/Oh Larsen B, oh you can fall on me,” Yan sings in apparent sincerity. Similarly, “North Hanging Rock” urges the listener to “Drape yourself in greenery/Become part of the scenery,” and the disc-closing “True Adventures” promises, “We will see foxes in the moon.” Classic BSP lines all, and if Open Season has shocked some fans of the first album, they’re forgetting something: It was always the group’s pop side that made for good music; everything else was just good attitude.
British Sea Power performs at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12, at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. For more information, call (202) 667-7960.