w/the Turn-Ons, the Glasses
Wed April 27, Neumo's, 9 pm, $10 adv./$12 DOS, 21+.
"Is there anything else you'd like to talk about, apart from animals?" asks British Sea Power guitarist Noble. He sounds amused, and just a little miffed. And with just cause. He has been on the phone with The Stranger for nearly 30 minutes, and the conversation has returned, repeatedly, to flora and fauna, rather than the particulars of the English quintet's sophomore album, Open Season (Rough Trade). But why rehash rock when you can chat giraffes instead?
Still, the fact that Noble--the Brighton ensemble eschew using surnames--talks excitedly about his fondness for tiny capuchin monkeys, the star turn by his pet terrier in their new video, and the group's close call with a posse of Asiatic black bears in Japan last year, points out just what makes this crew special: They're unafraid of appearing intelligent. In an era where most British rock bands are busy repurposing old Gang of Four or Thin Lizzy riffs, British Sea Power make dramatic, beautifully packaged records that reference arcane novelists and Greek mythology.
"We started off as a reaction to a lot of dumb, fake AC/DC guitar bands that were getting loads of attention, and we thought were rubbish," admits Noble. "We couldn't believe that such crap was getting played on the radio." Caught between cock rock and Coldplay, British Sea Power--Yan and Noble, along with drummer Woody, keyboard player Eamon, and Yan's brother, Hamilton, on bass--have forged their own melodic, thought-provoking path instead.
The band's 2003 debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, owed an audible debt to post-punk and alt-rock icons like the Fall and the Pixies, particularly on the disc's cacophonous first half. But Open Season picks up where the latter portion of The Decline… ended, curtailing the more angular and jarring aspects of the band's sound, while still emphasizing ringing guitars, echo-laden drums, and Yan's breathy vocals. Tracks like "It Ended on an Oily Stage," "To Get to Sleep," and "Please Stand Up" summon up arena rock-sized excitement and sweep, yet stop short of pomposity.
The subtle progression between albums was organic, not conscious. "After touring for so long, and not living a very relaxed life, we holed ourselves up in a converted barn, in the Sussex countryside. It was really peaceful, so the music we wrote reflected that," says Noble. They did compose a few harder tunes, but ultimately those didn't vibe with the rest of the selections. "We had a collection of songs that felt like an album, so we didn't want to put a strange, shout-y one in the middle of everything."
The Great Outdoors has been a central motif in the BSP aesthetic since their 2001 inception. At their Club Sea Power night in Brighton, tree branches and a fake peregrine falcon were part of the décor. Their 2003 single "Carrion" incorporated assorted names of British coastal locations. At the 2002 Reading Festival, Hamilton played with sapling sprigs woven into his hair. But for Open Season, they took matters further, and actually recorded two tracks, the epic "Please Stand Up" and its introspective counterpart, "North Hanging Rock," outside of studio confines, with Graham Sutton (formerly of atmospheric cult rockers Bark Psychosis and loopy drum and bass act Boymerang) producing.
"We recorded those two in Wales, in the countryside. Just set the drums up outside in the courtyard when it was really sunny, and all played together," the guitarist recalls. Just a few yards away, horses grazed in a pasture. "It was a really great atmosphere. We recorded the songs live as well. All the spring birds, the swallows, were coming back, and the change from winter into spring was in the air." In fact, if you listen closely in the quiet passages of "North Hanging Rock," you can hear real-time chirping, and footsteps crunching on gravel, souvenirs of that sunny afternoon.
While birdies and beasties have featured in their songs and videos, BSP have yet to integrate live pet tricks into their concerts. But never say never. "I was watching the Crufts, which is this very big dog show, the other day," concludes Noble. "And every year, at the end of it, they have this woman who trains four sheepdogs to dance around. And I want her to support us. It would be amazing. Just loads of dancing dogs! That would get the crowd wound up a lot better than some opening band."