British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall
Label: Rough Trade
Release Date: Monday, January 10, 2011
Writer: Adam Millard
British Sea Power have returned with their first album proper since 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music, a record which was hailed as a commercial milestone in the band’s career (it’s their only album so far to reach the UK top 10) whilst bewildering some critics with it’s uber-accessible anthemic sound (Pitchfork notoriously awarded the album U.2/10). It’s not that the band have been on holiday in the interim though, in the past 3 years the band have recorded a soundtrack for a 1930s documentary (Man Of Aran) and released a 7 track EP (Zeus) to whet the appetites of their ever-ready group of twig waving, flag waving, skinny fist waving followers. Their live “routine” hasn’t really slowed either and they continue to balance relatively traditional gigs (including a mammoth UK tour supporting the Manic Street Preachers) with performances in churches, seaside cafés and the highest pub in Britain (the almost inaccessible and sometimes inescapable Tan Hill Inn). It’s a pleasant surprise then when a BSP release creeps up on you in what seems like no time at all and brings us another much needed hit.
"Who's In Control" picks up where DYLRM left off - a radio friendly riff albeit with a slightly less friendly vocal and political slant ('Were you not told? Do you not know? Everything around you's being sold'), it's a perfectly fitting theme tune for the ConDem government and a gloriously sweary album opener. Whilst track two ("We Are Sound") covers a similar recent-BSP sound, we also get a healthy dose of the high-octane in "Stunde Null" and "The Black Sail" which nod to the short sharp punk tracks that opened BSP's debut and gave a somewhat skewed impression of what to expect from the band. Its nice to hear these lively forays mixed in with the slow building, atmospheric compositions that have been mastered by the band in more recent years, "Once More Now" being this album's prime example and coming in at a mammoth 11m14s. "Luna" provides a knowingly half hearted chant of 'Go Forth' and a subdued outro which are in stark contrast to the 'Easy, Easy!' battle-cry of DYLRM highlight "No Lucifer" but the album still provides single quality tracks such as "Living Is So Easy"; a faultlessly crafted pop song complete with Kraftwerk keyboards and a melody worthy of Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift for You.
At the end of the day Valhalla Dancehall is a splendid companion piece to Do You Like Rock Music and Open Season and as the band carve out powerful pop tunes (whilst managing NOT to sound like U2) there's always the safe knowledge that you can stick on Man Of Aran or get yourself up to Tan Hill if you're looking for something more experimental. Welcome Back.
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