British Sea Power - The Decline of British Sea Power (Cover Artwork)

British Sea Power

The Decline of British Sea Power (2003)

Rough Trade

For South by Southwest (SXSW) 2003, these guys hopped on a plane from England to play two shows for the annual Texas music and film festival. I don't care who you are–even if you are the most obnoxious, sniveling, and condescending music arbiter for Pitchfork–nobody in the United States had any real idea of who these guys were because they had yet to release a debut album. This album was released four months after SXSW, and all the band had released prior were a couple of 2-3 song EP's available in the UK. Consequently, only about 30 people were at the show.

However, it fucking destroyed. The band dressed the stage in foliage, and played wearing military khaki and greens. It seemed like a cute novelty, until the guitar player whirled his guitar and launched it like a torpedo into the crowd, crashing into some poor guy watching the show (who I later learned was Geoff Travis, the owner of Rough Trade Records.) The crowd was dumbfounded and their jaws were hanging with shock like broken limbs. Said guitarist then climbs a rafter and opens the club's storage area shrouded by red velvet curtains, and begins throwing heavy wooden chairs at the crowd below while they scramble for safe cover. Next, the singer leaps off the stage, but nobody is there to catch him because the crowd is frantically running around; he lands head first and jolts around on the floor like he's having a seizure. Meanwhile, the guitarist is still throwing down chairs like lightning from an angry Zeus, while bouncers and bartenders are screaming for everything to stop.

After witnessing this, I naturally had to buy their debut album. Some reviews compare them to Joy Division–yeah, I can see that, but don't expect wannabe Ian Curtis rehash. The record starts with some choral-like chanting, and then discharges two frantic–almost dancy–songs with riffing guitars and frenetic vocals. After the first three tracks, the record shifts gears and changes tone–which is not a bad thing. The strength of British Sea Power is their ability to write melancholy songs with cascading instrumentation. Musically they are not gloomy soundtrack music for some goth kid, but the presentation and content of the lyrics create a strong, brooding, and morose atmosphere. Musically, some songs could be easily labeled as pop.

My favorite song is Fear of Drowning. It's fucking brilliant. It starts with this haunting wind-swirling sound, and the vocalist sings, "Jesus Fucking Christ, Oh God No," while somebody is gasping in the background. My other favorite is Carrion. Sounds cliché, but you should buy this album for those two songs alone. The record also contains a 14 minute song that climaxes with a piano, static-like vocals, and yelling.

The band draws comparisons to Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust era, and the Pixies. They also toured with Interpol. If you like any of said bands, then you need to make it a priority to check-out British Sea Power.