British Sea Power: Valhalla Dancehall – review

British Sea Power's fourth album proper stakes out new territory between the Flaming Lips and the Manics

Imagine, for a moment, an actual Jamaican dance hall, relocated to Valhalla. There would be a time-shifting fog of ganja and barbecued goat. Mad-eyed men in leather and horned hats would be fancying the pants off women wearing pants so small they barely need removing. Revellers would be indulging in the kind of wrongness that turned Super Hans's New Year's Eve party in Peep Show into Apocalypse Now. The music would be sublime – bass-heavy jump-up, punctuated by marauding roars.

A dance hall in Valhalla would be less likely, one suspects, to sound like the fourth album proper by British Sea Power. Judging from their past three works, this is a band of indie stalwarts whose idea of a good time is not going deaf at an orgy in a parallel universe, but adding more glockenspiel to another unassuming shuffle. Since their inception, BSP have peddled a highly literate and theoretically appealing variant of orchestral indie rock, one that has grown more lush and Arcade Fire-like by the album. These increments were marked by the Mercury nomination for 2008's Do You Like Rock Music? (another title that infringes the Trade Descriptions Act).

British Sea Power appear to hold rock in wry disdain, preferring a polite, staid derivative whose generous intellect, humanist bent and interest in ornithology never quite make up for its bloodlessness. Despite the album's Bacchanalian title, BSP still fear fun. "Babe, are you going to the disco, hey?/Are you hoping that you'll all get laid?" asks singer Yan on "Luna". He has the supercilious envy of a man who looks down on the messy business of other people having a good time, without the benefit of Morrissey's acerbic wit.

Elsewhere, BSP have moved on, very gently, once again. Valhalla Dancehall stakes out as-yet unclaimed territory between the wide-eyed indie wonder of bands such as the Flaming Lips (who actually know a thing or two about perdition) and the Manic Street Preachers, another group with hearts and minds in the right place, but whose dull music is stuck in a four-square purgatory. "Who's In Control", Valhalla Dancehall's opener, apes the political engagement and stadium indie of the Manics' latest, Postcards from a Young Man. Stolid, like so many BSP songs, it scarcely redefines the relationship between a young individual and the state via the music of guitars.

BSP's incremental evolution just might be working, though. The good news is largely textural and incidental, but it is there, in the little piano interlude of "Cleaning Out the Rooms", in the howling guitars of "Mongk II" and the interstices of other songs, when the structure falls away to reveal ghostly thrumming, or the sound of the wind on the Sussex Downs or the Isle of Skye, the album's twin recording landscapes.

"Once More Now", meanwhile, is an 11-minute ambient/orchestral/found sound-laced humdinger – a gentle tour de force that harnesses dream rock, oscillation, pristineness, repetition and beauty. There's a pleasing suspicion, too, that British Sea Power have undone the top buttons of their military tunics and – finally – have let themselves go, a little.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

British Sea Power: Machineries of Joy – review
Brighton rockers British Sea Power play it straight on their fifth album – and it suits them, says Phil Mongredien

Phil Mongredien

31, Mar, 2013 @12:05 AM

Article image
British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall: Exclusive album stream

Let us know what you think of British Sea Power's latest effort, a pop record inspired by Dadaist poetry and crazy golf. Of course ...

British Sea Power

05, Jan, 2011 @3:57 PM

Article image
British Sea Power: Our memories of making Valhalla Dancehall

Yan from the band picks his 10 favourite moments of making the album …

British Sea Power's Scott 'Yan' Wilkinson

05, Jan, 2011 @3:57 PM

Article image
British Sea Power: Full steam ahead for indie oddballs
Tim Jonze meets Brighton-based eccentrics British Sea Power, who are marking a decade in pop with an album that looks to the future

Tim Jonze

16, Jan, 2011 @12:05 AM

British Sea Power: From the Sea to the Land Beyond – review

BSP's mesmerising soundtrack to Penny Woolcock's film about the British coast impresses Paul Mardles

Paul Mardles

01, Dec, 2013 @12:02 AM

British Sea Power – review

Viola and keyboard player Abi Fry made a good contribution as British Sea Power's first female memeber in this show at the Barfly, writes Caroline Sullivan

Caroline Sullivan

14, Jan, 2011 @11:01 PM

British Sea Power: Valhalla Dancehall - review
Expect no surprises from British Sea Power, says Maddy Costa, just exquisite, luminous beauty

Maddy Costa

06, Jan, 2011 @10:00 PM

Cat Power: Sun – review
Cat Power's first album of original material in six years glows with hard-won contentment, writes Ally Carnwath

Ally Carnwath

01, Sep, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Power walking: Alexis Petridis talks to British Sea Power about their love of the countryside

Alexis Petridis takes a stroll with British Sea Power, one of the few rock bands to take their inspiration from the countryside

Alexis Petridis

07, Jun, 2009 @11:01 AM

Article image
British Sea Power: Sea of Brass review – indie-rockers go orchestral
The brass lends warmth and the orchestra occasionally adds a Beatles-like charm, but the two parties make for uncomfortable bedfellows

Dave Simpson

29, Oct, 2015 @9:30 PM