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Sunday, September 16, 2012

British Sea Power: Open Season


BRITISH SEA POWER: OPEN SEASON (2005)

1) It Ended On An Oily Stage; 2) Be Gone; 3) How Will I Ever Find My Way Home?; 4) Like A Honeycomb; 5) Please Stand Up; 6) North Hanging Rock; 7) To Get To Sleep; 8) Victorian Ice; 9) Oh Larsen B; 10) The Land Be­yond; 11) True Adventures.

EPIC alert! Maybe, this time around, fueled by the critical success of Arcade Fire, British Sea Power hit it loud, proud, and hyper-arch-pretentious, and never let go for even one second. «Sea power» indeed — Pathos, with a capital P, roars and thrashes here with ferocious wave amplitude. If it weren't for Yan's «anthemic loudest whisper in the world», I'd say they were trying to outdo U2 and The Cure rolled together on most of these tracks, but since the man is so obviously «vo­cally challenged» (yet tries to turn it to his advantage), the comparison would be somewhat off.

Surprisingly, the songs are good! I will admit that I totally hated this upon first listen — the stubborn hooks had no intention of climbing out from under all the walls of sound, and the monotonousness of it all weighed heavy on the soul. As in, if you want to make something that loud, that romantic, that pathetic, make it short and sweet: ten songs in a row based on the same approach and groping in the same limited bag of tricks (simple 4/4 beats, droning electric or strumming acoustic rhythms, atmospheric keyboard / female vocal background) get annoying very quickly if each one is slap­ped with the seal of «Hello, I am The Artist, and I am here to help you Get Inspired».

Eventually, though, it clicks. No, they are still nowhere near Arcade Fire: Yan and Hamilton's imagination suffers from a serious lack of vitamins compared to Win and Regine's. (On the other hand, Yan's obscure, intricate lyrics might easily make them intellectual darlings compared to Ar­cade Fire's more transparently «populist» approach). But it would be slanderous to say that the music here is just a vehicle for Yan's incomprehensible, yet still overblown ego. With Hamilton and Noble, they are honestly trying to come up with simple, but distinct and, hopefully, memo­rable guitar hooks for each song. Listen to how ʽIt Ended On An Oily Stageʼ begins — with a massive electric riff riding on a crest of unchanging rhythm chords, and then one more riff is tracing and echoing Yan's vocals in the chorus. It's hardly genius, I'd say, but it's an attempt to make some damn good music, and, with a little patience, it gets through.

Still more of these simple, but meaningful electric phrases can be found on ʽBe Goneʼ (power­ful, but plaintive, which is probably supposed to agree with obscure references to the French Revo­lution in the lyrics), ʽPlease Stand Upʼ (this song could easily come out as generic alt-rock, but there is something subtly non-generic in the way its guitar wailings mesh with Yan's «gray-eyed soul»), and ʽOh Larsen Bʼ (referring to the collapse of an Antarctic ice shelf and not to a close Norwegian friend of Yan's, as could be suggested).

But the best of the lot is arguably ʽHow Will I Ever Find My Way Home?ʼ, which begins like a fast, quintessentially cozy Brit-pop number, then drops the coziness for a totally dandy two-note guitar solo (a real tasty bit of 21st century power-pop aggressiveness here), then races towards a proverbial ecstatic climax. Again, maybe it won't make the annals, but it's a brilliantly executed piece of work all the same — and its main emotions, «cautious tenderness» and «restrained ma­lice», are absolutely not what you'd usually expect with that kind of title (something à la Bee Gees? James Taylor, maybe?).

Again, they try their luck on the last number — ʽTrue Adventuresʼ loses the punch, the speed, the energy, and, for much of its duration, even the rhythm, and tends to woo you over with atmosphe­ric trills, frills, and spills. It certainly ties in with the roaring oceanic feel of the rest of the album, but really, guitar-based atmospherics is so passé now, guys: what do you want, bring back shoe­gazing? At least if y'all were a bunch of Robert Fripps... but perish the thought.

Altogether, I am still torn. Open Season is most definitively a grower, and there is definitively something of a «real thing» about Yan and his buddies — even now, when they go for a much more streamlined, less experimental, more «rock-oriented», less intellectualized (apart from the lyrics) approach than on their debut. But it's hard to get away from the feeling that the album is inadequate, and that these guys could use some subtlety — all these Herculean efforts to «make yourself look big», in the end, are like a bunch of Springsteen bastards that only managed to im­prove on their father by reading a few extra books.

If it weren't for their surprising ability to punch out these nice guitar melodic bits, there would be very little to recommend about the re­cord. Any way you look at it, it is a post-Decline decline; but it still gets a thumbs up. In fact, ʽHow Will I Ever Find My Way Home?ʼ would probably deserve a spot on a top 50 list of «best songs of the 2000s» or something like that.

Check "Open Season" (CD) on Amazon

7 comments:

  1. Got this one by sheer chance 6 or 7 years ago (wanted to buy Kate Bush's Aerial, but my record store didn't have it), and was never really disappointed. Once you get past the slightly obnoxious, 'Bono indie-fied' vocals, you will hear catchy, really well-written songs. "Be Gone", "How Will I Ever...", "Please Stand Up" and "Victorian Ice" in particular are indie-pop gems. Instrumentally too - this is good stuff.

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  2. This band is horrendous. George, please don't review a bunch of generic indie bands.

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  3. I back this request. Review Black Sabbath and preferably Budgie too and you'll see how many responses you'll get. Or does that scare you off?

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    1. Yeah and Bjork, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Belle and Sebastian, Bob Dylan, Blur, Amadou and Mariam, Bread, Ben Folds... the list goes on and on.

      I don't think he does requests.

      He'll get round to everyone in time. Part of the delight of this site is seeing what direction George's whims will take him.

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    2. Both of those bands were on his old site; they'll be here eventually.

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  4. I don't think either, but not shooting is always wide, as we Dutch say.

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  5. "Both of those bands were on his old site; they'll be here eventually."
    The first part I know since at least three years. As I can't comment there I'm impatient regarding the second part.

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