If you didn’t catch them at Norman Music Festival 1, check out their Wikipedia article, which details their antics.
Despite their wild stage presence, their music has never been incredibly confrontational or extreme; they’ve more often than not cranked out solid rock music and called it a day (see title and music of previous release, “Do You Like Rock Music?”). This approach is rarely varied in their new release “Valhalla Dancehall,” despite the genre-promising title.
The songs in the front half mostly conform to a pattern: fuzzy guitar riff, mid-tempo drumming, tight bass work and a nice vocal melody. It’s not a bad live formula at all (especially if you’re wrecking a stage while you do it), but it doesn’t produce very memorable tunes on an album. The second half, however, is much more interesting.
By dropping out various parts of the formula for the back half, BSP breaks out of their rock rut and creates some great compositions. “Living Is So Easy” substitutes a kitschy synth for the guitars and makes a clever little throwback song. “Baby” sets the tempo to glacial and creates a Beach House-esque dream-pop song.
They go all Arcade Fire on the seven-minute “Cleaning Out the Rooms,” creating a song that’s epic not only in length, but in scope. The insistent strings throughout make this song powerful and give a Sigur Rós-esque feel. “Once More Now” pushes the length out to 11 minutes, strengthening Sigur Rós comparisons in composition style and mood (this is a great thing, in my book). It’s the highlight of the album, and I hope that BSP goes more in this direction in the future. They seem to be awesome at it so far, and it’s much more enjoyable and memorable than their four-on-the-floor rock.
“Valhalla Dancehall” is a bit scattershot, as British Sea Power’s vast songwriting moods create for an uneven listening experience. But that back half redeems the front, as the 18 combined minutes of “Cleaning Out the Rooms” and “Once More Now” show a very enjoyable side of the band that I hope is exploited more in the future.
If you’re a fan of BSP already, this one won’t disappoint; if you’re a new fan, check it out before you buy it. —Stephen Carradini