BRITISH SEA POWER: FROM THE SEA TO THE LAND BEYOND (2013)
1) From The Sea To The Land Beyond; 2) Remarkable Diving Feat; 3) Strange Sports; 4) Heroines Of The Cliff; 5) The Guillemot Girls; 6) Suffragette Riots; 7) Heatwave; 8) Melancholy Of The Boot; 9) Be You Mighty Sparrow; 10) Berth 24; 11) Red Rock Riviera; 12) Coastguard; 13) Perspectives Of Stinky Turner; 14) Bonjour Copains; 15) The Wild Highlands; 16) Docklands Renewed; 17) The Islanders.
Apparently, it was a stroke of luck when these guys decided to call themselves British Sea Power and write grand songs with massive hooks — these days, whenever somebody films a movie that involves (a) the sea and (b) the British Isles, they are the first band to whom people turn to provide the soundtrack. This time, it is for From The Sea To The Land Beyond: Britain's Coast On Film, a documentary feature by Penny Woolcock on various aspects, historical and modern, of everyday life on Britain's coastline. I have not watched the movie, but gather, from various descriptions, that, like most such documentaries, that the two major types of reaction to it would be either «breathtakingly beautiful» or «butthurtingly boring», depending on whether one is an idealistic, impressionable artistic soul or a jaded cynical bastard. In both cases, though, the soundtrack by British Sea Power will be a natural part of the impression.
Although the album is about as long as the movie, featuring complete versions of compositions that were abridged in the documentary, it is definitely a soundtrack, whose purposes are secondary to the visuals. Some of the music is not new at all, but borrows old instrumental mixes from their previous albums (unfortunately, at this point I cannot state for certain which ones are which and am merely repeating outside information); some is new, and a few numbers even feature vocals, but on the whole, this is monotonous, atmospheric stuff, absolutely typical of BSP with their symphonic echoey sound, ringing guitars, swooping violas, crashing percussion, and sound effects (waves beating? check. thunder rolling? check. gulls shrieking? check, etc.), and featuring very little in the way of individual hooks. Well, a little. But not much. Really, it's not supposed to. Living on the British coast is not much of a hook-filled activity anyway — it's more about being one with nature, or with hoarding cultural memory.
The track titles, while they probably correspond to specific parts of the feature, are not that well correlated with the music. ʽSuffragette Riotsʼ, for instance, beginning with some isolated piano chords and the omnipresent seagulls, slowly builds up towards a crescendo, but hardly of the «riot» variety — these guys are the children of shoegazers and they couldn't properly picture a «riot» under pain of having to listen to Agnostic Front for the rest of their lives. ʽHeatwaveʼ has a lovely-lazy guitar/viola dialog going on, but I wouldn't necessarily call it indicative of a «heatwave» (and it isn't atmospherically different from something like ʽStrange Sportsʼ), for instance. In fact, the album could definitely use more variety — that is, if the idea of the movie itself, as I understand it, wasn't that «the more it changes, the more it stays the same».
In brief, this is what happens when you get British Sea Power to just be British Sea Power and not worry all that much about anything else. I like their «average» sonic vibe a lot, but a thumbs up for this album would at least have to mean that it «got me» a couple of times, and it didn't: it was just nice in the usual, predictable, reliable way. But it is most definitely for you if you are one of those types with a habit of sharing «This Photographer Shoots The Most Amazing Pictures Of The World That Will Totally Amaze You And Make You See The World In A Totally Amazing New Light And Your Life Will Never Be The Same» links on Facebook. I myself tend to gravitate towards The Onion on those matters, so I'll just leave this record unrated, for justice' sake, and secretly hope that nobody on the British Isles is currently envisaging a UK-based movie remake of The Old Man And The Sea.