The knock on British Sea Power has long been that they basically always do the same thing. Epic in the way of a less-pacifist early U2 (QRO re-release review), with a penchant for singing about historical & geographic topics (there might not be an indie band that is more pro-E.U. eastward expansion…), many accused the Brighton band’s 2008 Do You Like Rock Music? (QRO review) of sounding a whole lot like what they’ve done before, and did best on 2003 debut The Decline of British Sea Power. Since then, BSP made the soundtrack for Man of Aran, and most recently put out the Zeus EP (QRO review), which brought in some up-tempo garage-procession for different, if somewhat mixed, results. For full-length Valhalla Dancehall, one of the first indie-rock releases of 2011 (the same was true in 2008 for Rock Music), British Sea Power continue their changing ways, incorporating elements such as orchestral grandeur and more. While no one song may quite hit the heights of Decline and breakthrough single “Remember Me”, it’s the best new Sea Power yet.
Not that you can necessarily tell that BSP has changed at the start of Valhalla, as opener “Who’s In Control” is the epic indie-rock that the band has been doing so well for a while now, and the following “We Are Sound” does feel like they’re repeating themselves. But then their grand styles go orchestral on “Georgie Ray”, borrowing some of the popular indie-classical grandeur of the likes of The Arcade Fire (QRO live review) or The National (QRO spotlight on), while still keeping it BSP, and from then on the band stretches in different ways, while never abandoning Her Majesty’s Navy. There’s road-speed pressure on “Stunde Null”, more fuzz-distort to “Mongk II”, greater expansion in “Luna”, a cheerier outlook on “Living Is So Easy”, slow wash to “Cleaning Out the Rooms”, and a quick rocker in “Thin Black Sail”. Even “Once More Now”, which starts slow and sad, builds into a less uplifting opus. Only the slow and orchestral “Baby” feels too far out of the band’s wheelhouse.
There is still the straight BSP epic-ness, and not just at the start. Indeed, putting “Observe the Skies” in amongst changing pieces enhances it – “We Are Sound” could have used a different place on the track listing than right after “Who’s In Control”. But Valhalla Dancehall is British Sea Power sailing into new domains. Like Liverpool’s Clinic (QRO spotlight on) did last year with Bubblegum (QRO review) – or Brooklyn’s Matt & Kim (QRO spotlight on) did with Sidewalks (QRO review) – this Brighton band is leaving the comfort zone that they’ve mastered, planting their Union Jack in new oceans.
MP3 Stream: “Observe the Skies”