In 1965, the Lovin’ Spoonful polled the nation with the simple question, “Do You Believe in Magic?” In 1973, Peter Frampton posed the question, “Do You Feel Like We Do?” though he wouldn’t get much of an answer until three years later. In 1977, the Ramones pulled an older question out of a hat with “Do You Wanna Dance?” In 1982, Boy George asked “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and one year later, Annabella Lwin, then a whopping seventeen years old, queried “Do You Wanna Hold Me?” The answer is usually an implicit yes to these kinds of questions. (And although I’m sure there were and are a lot of folks out there who do want to hurt Boy George, I just can’t endorse violence of any kind.) So too, is there a resounding implicit yes to the question posed by British Sea Power’s third album, Do You Like Rock Music?
In my previous reviews of BSP’s first two albums, I used a bit of dramatic fictional gimmickry that found `art rock icons’ in somewhat of a Justice League scenario. (Unfortunately, I didn’t name it the Gang of Legendary Art Musicians, which would have given it an awesome acronym, but hindsight is 20/20). I did this for two reasons. One, I wanted to break out of the traditional album review mold, and two, I felt that the music of British Sea Power was great enough to endure a particularly tangential review. The Decline of British Sea Power and Open Season are impressive releases, making bridges between post-rock, punk and post-punk seem obvious, as if the band had inside information that the rest of us didn’t. The debut was universally praised, while the follow-up was astoundingly given mixed reviews. I frankly felt that BSP only improved on their sophomore release, just as I feel that now the band has topped both of those records with Do You Like Rock Music?
For this record, BSP assembled a `dream team’ of producers and engineers in Graham Sutton (who has helmed albums by the Delays and Jarvis Cocker, but also whose original band Bark Psychosis inspired the term `post-rock’), Howard Bilerman (member of Arcade Fire and engineer to several prominent Canadian bands) and Efrim Menuck (of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion). While one would think this a confluence of post-rock that could send BSP spiraling into the `wonky,’ nothing could be further from the truth. The introduction of “All In It” has already garnered, and will continue to elicit, comparisons to Arcade Fire thanks to its anthemic and melodramatic choral sensibilities. But those who missed the angst-ular ambience of their debut will be pleased to hear “Lights Out for Darker Skies,” though this epic rocker is a little denser than their original output and ends up to be two songs in one, closing with another AF-style vocal protest. Yan’s voice has never sounded better than it does on “No Lucifer,” a track replete with the band’s now traditional references to names, dates and places that send even the knowledgeable on vast Wikipedia hunts.
“Waving Flags” again finds BSP in gloriously anthemic territory, halfway between Arcade Fire’s Springsteen-esque nods to youthful rebellion and Echo & the Bunnymen’s politically-themed tracks from their self-titled `grey album,’ as they address immigration issues. As the album plays on, one realizes that there’s not a single uninspiring track in the bunch. By the time you get to “Down on the Ground” and “A Trip Out,” the muscles in your legs will begin to tire from bouncing along to the frenzied beat. Luckily, “The Great Skua” comes along, a song named after a piratical seabird who steals fish from its brethren, that ultimately finds BSP in the post-rock terrain that one would have originally thought given the trio of engineers attached. “No Need to Cry” is another gorgeous respite from the `rock,’ as distant and alien yet warm as songs from a notorious Icelandic band, while “Open the Door” treads more pop-friendly ground, sounding like a lost La’s single. “Atom” was my initial gateway into the new music by BSP, coming as a free download and the initial single from the Krankenhaus EP. I knew then, hearing the call and response bridge, the breakneck speed and the absolute crackling intensity that there were great things on the horizon, and I wasn’t wrong.
“We Close Our Eyes” has Hamilton, Yan, Noble and Wood finishing the album in a similar manner in which it was begun, although it does take us about two and a half minutes into the track to get there. Hamilton’s harmonium (which sounds like a children’s book title) again can’t help but recall Arcade Fire’s pipe organs, and the building march of drums and chanting certainly aren’t steering anyone away from the connection. But, rather than simply appearing to be the first post-AF knock off, it merely reinforces that the stakes for independent rock music have been immeasurably raised, and that British Sea Power was not only up to the challenge, but insisted on winning. Do You Like Rock Music? pulls off a feat that is incredibly difficult. The songs use their own established sound as a foundation, and then take that sound in exciting new directions. I’m sure that I wasn’t alone in the critical world when I originally found myself wanting to write a one-word review that simply stated `yes,’ as a response to the album’s query. I’m equally as sure that after hearing the record, that single word would have to be followed by several exclamation marks.
Video: “No Lucifer”