Track by track review of British Sea Power's hugely enjoyable Machineries of Joy record
Have British Sea Power really been around a decade? It doesn’t seem that since, shortly after the release of their second album, Open Season I saw them in London, as support for the much missed (in my house anyway) Electric Soft Parade. They wore odd costumes, paraded around the stage on each-others shoulders, made a real show of everything. I was transfixed. Of course since then they’ve released a handful of great albums (not forgetting their stunning debut, The Decline of British Sea Power), curated their own festival, held their own club nights, and in actual fact, just done things their own way.
Their fifth album, ‘Machineries of Joy’ dropped on April 1st, and it carries on in this individual path, with their odd stories and lyrics mixed with their engaging mish-mash of styles and influences.
1. Machineries of Joy
The title track opens the album, and sets the scene of the album nicely, the analogue sounding keyboards acting in opposite to the chiming guitars. Its like some kind of bastardised Krautrock, played by The Coral. Vocalist Yan takes charge with his lyrics, slipping straight into it, like a pair of old slippers that you can smile knowingly and stretch out with. Its nod towards Elbow string writing gives it an extra emotional sheen, although the tune is strong enough to be carried all on its own.
More aggressive and driving than the opener, the fuzzy bass and a vocal that sounds like it was recorded in a small cupboard gives a sense of foreboding. Once again though, pushing aside the veil of Strokes-like stylings is the quality of songwriting, the sharp and inventive melodic writing shows a band that are on good (if not great) form. Oh yeah, and its about taking Ketamine. Probably.
3. Hail Holy Queen
This is a track that BSP couldn’t or wouldn’t have written on their earlier albums. A ballad almost a lullaby to a (typically) ambiguous female, as Yan teases the listener with Hail Holy queen, or the scene, and also emphasising how much in her control he is. The track itself, with the Viola of Abi Fry causing various (and not entirely lazy, either) Velvet Underground comparisons
4. Loving Animals
Loving animals exudes a slight weirdness that we have so come to love from British Sea Power, its warm melody taking immediate diversions all over the place. With driving percussion, its psych-a-like harmonies wash over you, along with Yan’s usual bookish lyrics
5. What you need the most
It’s these overtly, almost literary lyricism’s that Yan occasionally gets criticised for (yeah, I know – you can’t win) but lyrics contained within this ballad of Hawley-esque proportions, I personally find charming – thrilling even, ‘You were my Pyrex baby, made entirely out of glass – at your most beautiful when you were getting smashed.’ The track opens and flowers as it proceeds in its stately manner, once again proving Abi Fry’s worth to the band.
6. Monsters of Sunderland
Monsters of Sunderland shifts gear, to exhilarating. After a fanfare to herald its beginning, it roars along, a glorious slice of indie-rock almost impregnated by, on one hand African (well, maybe at least Vampire Weekend) sounding guitars, and the other this buzzsaw of a lick. This is a definite highlight of the album and maybe backs up their title-track claim that ‘We are the Machineries of Joy.’
7. Spring has Sprung
If New Order were still making great records, they would perhaps (in places) sound a little bit like this. The cold keyboard sound underpinning this warm and lyrical indie-rock. It’s probably the prettiest tune on the album, added to with the female harmony singing, and the overplaying of the loud/quiet sections.
8. Radio Goddard
Written supposedly about Joe Meek‘s writing partner, the song hints towards the great man with hollow sounding guitars and BBC Radiophonic sounding keyboards. ‘Dear boy, don’t forget who you are’ sings Yan. You know, its difficult when music like this washes over you.
9. A light above descending
Like the Vaughan -Williams work that the title hints at, this is more reflective, almost serene, and definitely English feel. The quasi-religious lyrics almost don’t fit, tales of monks and clean living seemingly the message/story, but then unexpected is about the only thing that can be expected of British Sea Power, right?
10. When a warm wind blows through the grass
The songs rocks forward and back gently, its repetitive background becoming droney and almost meditative. Its got a sort of acid-folk sort of pretension, and the addition of a choral background means the whole thing swirls and swells, without ever-moving anywhere. That’ll be the wind, then.
And then its over. And the things that comes through is that British Sea Power have made an album that was unexpected, but not in the way that the band usually are. For the record they have made, while very good indeed, is one that covers territory they have already inhabited, and that, for British Sea Power, seems very odd indeed.