British Sea Power Valhalla Dancehall Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Eccentric Brighton band’s fourth album proper continues their unruffled progress.

Andrzej Lukowski 2010

While British indie music remains at the mercy of boom and bust hype cycles and the vagaries of fashion – just how dated do The Libertines sound now? What happened to Klaxons’ second album? – it’s quite possible that the greatest achievement of Brighton’s British Sea Power is to have something approximating a stable, modest, ‘normal’ career. Viewed fondly by the music press but never hyped to the heavens, making accessible music but clearly unburdened by the desire to write a hit, eccentric but never preposterous, BSP’s three previous albums proper have each scored strong reviews and incrementally higher chart positions and fourth set Valhalla Dancehall seems profoundly unlikely to buck that trend.

Mixing the sort of luminescently sinister ballads that have stood the band in good stead throughout their career with chaotic, colourful smears of guitar rock that break with the sepia tones of 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music?, this is an album that neither treads water nor reinvents the wheel. Instead, it sees BSP continue their stately, unruffled progress.

It’s the band’s dense, oblique lyricism that’s generally prevented their oft-anthemic guitar rock seeming regressive, but on tracks like Who’s in Control?, Georgie Ray and Living is So Easy the band warp the music to match the words; stormy, elastic squalls of incandescent sound that lack the hooky polish of the band’s early material, yet seethe and churn with greater force. "Sometimes I wish protesting was sexy on a Saturday night!" roars vocalist Hamilton on Who’s in Control? before pummelling drums and screeds of feedback obliterate the song’s vestigial structure; there’s something of the roiling disorder we’ve seen on the UK’s streets of late to the track, music to bother royalty to.

It’s thrilling stuff, so it’s a shame Valhalla Dancefloor has a flat-ish final third: Heavy Water is a moving closer, but the preceding Once More Now is a pretty staid 10 minutes – if the band wanted an epic finale, they’d have been much better served including the gorgeous Bear from their recent Zeus EP. Still, that record isn’t totally neglected: the stifling Mongk II (a reworking of the EP’s Mongk) is a foreboding tour de force, buzzing with dread, the band’s most powerful song to date.

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