British Sea Power


British Sea Power are always at the best when their flag flies ragged in a stiff breeze, when you get the sense that they’re pushing themselves, musically, physically, aesthetically. And so it is with Zeus It’s remarkable that this is apparently a stew of scrag ends that haven’t made their fourth studio album, V****** D******* (the name is still a secret), which is due out in the spring. Zeus is certainly a step forward from both the Man Of Aran soundtrack and their last album proper, Do You Like Rock Music? Where the latter was a consolidation after the at times underwhelming Open Season, and Man of Aran a perfect evocation of the eternal dialogue between humanity and nature, Zeus finds British Sea Power treading fresh pastures.

The title track begins with an oompah confidence in drums, firm-browed guitar and lyrics that take in Nikita Kruschev, Worzel Gummidge and his lover Aunt Sally. Just what we’ve come to expect, then, until halfway through. At this point there’s a sudden breakdown into strange beeping before the signal reconnects and ‘Zeus’ emerges a stronger, more shouty and triumphant pop song. Yet it is perhaps the most conventional thing here – understanding British Sea Power’s adventurous side is not through searching for peculiar time signatures or mathematically obtuse beats, but by reading the signs and codes in how they twist the everyday, and finding great joy in the small details.

‘Cleaning Out The Rooms’ is another slow-burning seven-minuter, this time with Neil Hamilton taking up vocals that are wistful and lost amidst what sounds like gentle rain and lovers’ breath. On the other hand, ‘Can We Do It?’ is a throwaway scuzz pop track you could imagine being knocked about by BSP members in their occasional Jonathan Richman tribute group The Modern Ovens. Changing tack yet again, ‘Bear’ is at first a love song that makes romance of the Daily Star, gentle female backing vocals and pedal steel, far away… before becoming a rich, swirling, heady electronic soup. ‘Pardon My Friends’ is a ghost playing piano to sing the memories of an unhappy house.

While these all press gang umpteen wonderful ideas to the BSP cause, it’s in the closing salvo that the finest delights are to be found. ‘Mongk’ is a curious sketch, demented muttterings and repeated guitar howls, it’s like a sherry-quenched tramp arguing with his mongrel: "evil… evil… Can’t stop dancing… can’t stop dancing… call an ambulance." ‘kW-h’ is even madder, a vocoder-treated, glam stomping beast of a track that has echoes of Super Furry Animals, and even makes hearty, deeply amateurish use of autotune. Stick that, you sneering coves who think BSP are nostalgia fetishists who won’t get out of bed until awoken by an air raid siren and a steaming mug of bromide tea. It concludes with the bleat of a sheep.

Even that isn’t all. Purchasers of the CD will receive an eighth track. Called ‘Retreat’, it’s written by Neil Hamilton and is an ode to his life with violinist Abi Fry in a house that has no running water, somewhere on an island off the coast of Scotland. Where so much contemporary lo-fi feels contrived, the strings, few guitar flourishes, hazy vocals and glimpses of higher notes are the sound of surrender to a blanket of sea fog, wanting to be consumed by it as you say farewell to this distracting world forever.

If there’s a worry to be had, it’s that this material might have been deemed too unusual to appear on VD – it’d be a shame if these are the sharp edges for what might be more rounded, less free-spirited fare that Rough Trade sees fit for these troubled times. But for now, no matter, for Zeus is the sound of a five men and one woman emphatically succeeding in their mission to exceed the national average. And by a long straw, at that.


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