Tuesday, 22 January 2008

BRITISH SEA POWER: We Close Our Eyes


Is the shoegazing revival now officially on? First, In Rainbows - it can't be denied - then the Magnetic Fields' highly entertaining, if thoroughly misanthropic, Distortion, and now Do You Like Rock Music?, the third album by Lake District refugees British Sea Power, all pointing back to various parts of the early nineties. But all point to different futures, and BSP are by far the most surprising of these pointers.

Not many writers have yet been able to manage to articulate exactly how and why this is such an extraordinary album - though most have expressed surprise that it should be BSP pushing this particular envelope - but to these ears the central reason for its success is abundantly visible; most of the record was made in Montreal, under the watchful eye of Godspeed!'s producer Howard Bilerman, and with contributions from some of the Black Emperor faithful, and in intent and delivery Do You Like Rock Music? stands as a fundamentally Canadian record. The inevitable Arcade comparisons have been made, of course, though with the exception of the opening, escalating chant of the opening "All In It" their influence is more pronounced sociologically; the loosening up, the letting go, the feeling of community, pervades this record as it didn't quite manage to puncture their previous two. And in tracks like "Lights Out For Darker Skies" the band rocks and vocalises in a manner very reminiscent of Sloan.

The overall feeling, though, is one of deferred apocalypse; "Hey Lucifer" brilliantly defies death with the aid of the old Scottish World Cup "Easy, Easy" chant and the Syd-like swoon of singer Scott Wilkinson's slide down the song's title. At the other extreme, "Open The Door" is a humble-sounding and patient hymn of offered redemption ("Are you gonna live or die?") which implies the Zombies meeting Kitchens of Distinction. The album's clear dramatic peak is "Atom" which begins with a beautifully troubled, ethereal float through self-doubt before steadily escalating to a climax of screaming chaos, over which Wilkinson chides "What's wrong with you lad?" There are so many touches of deft Quebecois tenderness and balance; witness for instance the lovely crouching down of a sigh which bridges the two halves of "Canvey Island," the tacitly stellar pause for thought.

Nonetheless I still don't think that, even with the Canadian input, Do You Like Rock Music? would have carried its full magic without the crucial presence of Bark Psychosis' Graham Sutton on mixing duties - they remain among the most undervalued musical acts of their decade (listen to Hex, if you can find a copy, and lament how little of Britpop chased up its implications) and, if 2004's phenomenal but scarcely noticed ///Codename: Dustsucker is anything to go by, of this decade too. Sutton seems to make the music float and converge from unexpected angles; as Martin Hannett did with the Mondays' Bummed, he seems to extract the music from the ground and guide it towards the universe. Everything is fluid, aqueous and untethered; thus a song such as "Waving Flags" is how Coldplay should have ended up sounding - harking back to Slowdive and the Cocteaus (and also, lest we forget, to those other noble and ignored stalwarts of this particular decade, Clearlake) but never settling into blandly brown terrain; naturally instead of forcibly graceful.

"We Close Our Eyes" is the big setpiece which closes the album and is about as far away from the Go West song as life is from death. In its gloriously unrepentant length - over eight minutes - we hear GYBE! fusing with Bark Psychosis; intermittent dots of comet-promising blips, switchboard improv static, those seemingly hand-free guitars, all gradually coalescing together to meet the returning chant of "All in it, all in it, all in it and we close our eyes" until it reaches a euphorically raging coda which celebrates and advances the music others would have been wise to take from their nineties starting point; it is the meeting point between the communal anger of "Moya" and the galactic torrents of "All Different Things" and still beyond the end of achievement range of most of BSP's supposed British peers. As with My Bloody Valentine and Talk Talk before them, they have sneaked to the front while everyone was looking elsewhere and run away with something approaching the future. Shoegazing turns into stargazing.

1 comment:

mike said...

This album has sneaked up on me by stealth; I had to overcome a lot of my natural antipathy to Big And Important along the way, but the rewards have been great. And their ear-splitting live show, which ended here in Nottingham just over an hour ago, demonstrated a new-found focus and confidence which could see them get much, much Bigger and more Important over the coming year...