Album: British Sea Power

Open Season, ROUGH TRADE
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The Independent Culture

British Sea Power's second album continues mining the vein - or should that be surfing the tide? - of quirky imagery combined with ringing, anthemic choruses that gave their debut, The Decline of..., such an idiosyncratic charm. Among the matters touched on in Open Season are: insomnia and dreams, the rustic life, memory, the passage of time and, in "Oh Larsen B", a lament for the eponymous Antarctic ice-shelf now dissolving away. "Desalinate the barren sea," urges BSP's vocalist, Yan, contemplating the conclusion of its 12,000-year existence.

British Sea Power's second album continues mining the vein - or should that be surfing the tide? - of quirky imagery combined with ringing, anthemic choruses that gave their debut, The Decline of..., such an idiosyncratic charm. Among the matters touched on in Open Season are: insomnia and dreams, the rustic life, memory, the passage of time and, in "Oh Larsen B", a lament for the eponymous Antarctic ice-shelf now dissolving away. "Desalinate the barren sea," urges BSP's vocalist, Yan, contemplating the conclusion of its 12,000-year existence.

A torch-song tribute to a block of ice is not something you encounter every day, but then most of BSP's songs seem to exult in confronting the unusual and taking the most picturesque route. Compared with the slim, soul-sapping portfolio of clichés on offer in most pop songs, there's something hugely life-affirming about the lyric to a song such as "Be Gone", whose chorus cries out: "Oh Gloria! Oh Guillotine!/ I love your iridescent sheen/ As it reflects you, and reflects me." I'm still no clearer as to its specific meaning, but that, too, is part of its appeal: as long as a song remains partly shrouded in mystery, its grasp on one's imagination is secure, especially when its strangeness is allied to the kind of grand pop swagger that the band bring to most of these 11 tracks.

The album opens with the big twang and dense textures of the single "It Ended on an Oily Stage", a break-up song delivered with epic drama and emotion, and another of BSP's trademark maritime metaphors: "Me, I headed for the coastal regions of mind/ To see what I could find." Mostly recorded by Mads Bjerke (best known for his work with those other neo-psychedelicists Primal Scream and Spiritualized) and mixed by the legendary Bill Price (who has worked with everyone from Joe Meek to Sparks and The Sex Pistols), Open Season features gorgeous surround-sound keyboard textures behind the inventive guitar/ banjo/12-string interplay of Yan and Noble. But where most psych-rockers wallow in a miasmic slough, BSP's explorations are anchored by a powerful rhythm section and boast the kind of ringing, anthemic hooks that Coldplay would kill for.

The result is that, even on dreamy reflections such as "To Get to Sleep" and "The Land Beyond" or a bucolic reverie such as "North Hanging Rock" ("Drape yourself in greenery/ Become part of the scenery"), there's no hint of drift, no sense that the song has become becalmed (those naval images are catching). Despite possible reservations about the inexpressive manner of Yan's vocals, Open Season is a splendid, individual achievement, fully the equal of more high-profile recent offerings from BSP's peers.

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