Few bands can sing about melting icecaps and Eastern European migration without coming off as half-assed activists. For British Sea Power, such issues serve as a subtle framing for the anthemic guitar riffs and eccentric musical arrangements that define the band’s earlier work. Complete with gimmicky stage names, including singer Scott Wilkinson’s nomenclature Yan, the band created a loyal fan base through its impassioned live performances. After years of dodging Pixies comparisons, the British indie-rock quartet has come into its own with its third full-length release, Do You Like Rock Music? Recorded with a team of producers in Montreal, the Czech Republic and the English coastline, the album stays true to the split duel desire to educate and to entertain.
The majority of Do You Like Rock Music? is comprised of catchy rock beats caught between singer Yan’s impassioned vocals and his bandmates’ calculated tension. The album’s first single, “Waving Flags,” recalls Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” complete with a rousing chorus and triumphant drumbeats. Addressing the topic of economic migration, Yan asks, “Are you of legal drinking age? / On minimum wage? / Well welcome in.” On the equally catchy “No Lucifer,” a delicate arrangement of strings underscores a series of chants and power-driven guitar riffs. The track is permeated with biblical references, but its words take second stage to the song’s beauty. The band returns to its rock-based roots on “Lights Out For Darker Skies,” a bold, six-minute long adventure into guitar-based experimentation. While each of these tracks is distinctive, they all build onto one another, fitting the album’s general flow of powerful guitar strings and spacey vocals.
The hypnotic opener “All In It” marks a majestic start to an album brimming with lush choruses and grandiose guitar riffs. On the track, Yan is accompanied by an entourage of chanting vocalists who continually repeat that they are “all in it,” and ready for the record to begin. The song creates the atmospheric tension that resonates throughout the entire album. This effect is achieved with the use of cello, viola and studio tools that sustain the backup vocals that accompany most of the record’s tracks.
British Sea Power loses some of its characteristic raw power on its slower ballads (“No Need To Cry”), which are more likely to inspire burning lighters than pumping fists. A similarly slowed-down beat on “Open The Door” is complete with an appealing crescendo that sounds like an uncanny tribute to Scottish indie-pop kings Belle & Sebastian. The record is broken up by an unnecessary instrumental track, which effectively separates the album’s harder rock-based tracks from its quieter closing pieces. The album’s yawn-worthy, eight-minute closer is another misguided choice. The song is filled with several minutes of filler static in an attempt to tie in the album’s opening and closing tracks. Rather than building upon the tension created in the previous songs for a climactic finale, the band chooses to close with a failed attempt at an epic ending.
After years of standing in the shadows of fellow rockers Arcade Fire and Radiohead, the band has finally staked its own original sound on Do You Like Rock Music?, proving that it’s not merely a fan of the indie-rock genre, but maybe an understated pioneer.
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars
British Sea Power
Do You Like Rock Music?