Despite being one of the most ambitious and experimental British indie rock bands over the last ten years, British Sea Power have never quite reached the heights that they perhaps deserved. Their first two albums, 2003’s The Decline Of British Sea Power and 2005’s Open Season, were both critically acclaimed and built up a dedicated fanbase, but failed to make any major breakthrough.
Three years later, their excellent Mercury-nominated third album Do You Like Rock Music? made some headway, while their soundtrack to accompany the DVD release of Man Of Aran showed just how adventurous the Brighton-based band could be. British Sea Power’s last record, 2011’s Valhalla Dancehall, didn’t quite live up to their previous releases, but nevertheless, they have proved themselves more interesting than many of their contemporaries.
In fact, the band’s often eccentric and weird approach to their music could be one of the main reasons why mainstream success continues to allude them. The promotion for their new LP, entitled Machineries Of Joy, confirms they are not likely to be changing that approach anytime soon, after announcing they will be holding a launch event that includes a boat trip and a mystery bus tour. However, while the promotion may be unusual, British Sea Power’s latest effort is actually quite sedated.
The album kicks off with the title track, a wondrous and sweeping six-minute opener that eases the listener in and lays the foundations for the rest of the LP. The band described the album in the lead up to its release as “warm and restorative” and this certainly comes across in the opening track. Hail Holy Queen is another grandiose and atmospheric slow-burner, with the swirling orchestration and Yan’s melancholic vocal adding extra poignancy.
Yet while much of Machineries Of Joy focuses on expansive and wide-ranging sounds, there are brief moments where British Sea Power let loose and return to the energetic rock of their brilliant third album. One such moment is the thrilling K Hole, which demonstrates just how effective the band are when they do decide to force the pace. Loving Animals also subverts expectations, with the band’s eccentric tendencies coming through in Yan’s eerie vocal and dark lyrics: “Loving animals, loving animals/ I want you to know it’s wrong man.”
Elsewhere, the cinematic What You Need The Most returns to the luscious and patient soundscape that dominates the rest of Machineries Of Joy, while Spring Has Sprung is both delicate and strikingly simple. Then there’s the ordered chaos of Monsters Of Sunderland, which revolves around its punchy and euphoric chorus, as Yan repeatedly sings “Elevate me higher, please” over an unfurling guitar riff. It’s one of the highlights of the album, bringing together all the best qualities of British Sea Power into one anthemic track.
As Machineries Of Joy reaches its conclusion, the band return full circle to the comforting and laid-back sounds of the opening song. Both A Light Above Descending and the intense closer When A Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass capture the calming and slightly haunting atmosphere that the album maintains fairly consistently throughout.
While British Sea Power do occasionally revert back to the anthemic formula that worked so well on previous albums, on the whole, Machineries Of Joy is a more considered and composed effort. It is an album that takes a few listens before really making an impact and, for the most part, the wait is justified. There’s no doubt that British Sea Power have yet to surpass Do You Like Rock Music?, but Machineries Of Joy suggests that they are heading in the right direction.