Recorded on the edge of the Sussex downs, amongst the ‘interstellar clouds’ sung of on ‘Luna’ but far from the apocalyptic, hedonistic Valhalla Dancehall of the title, this is British Sea Power’s fifth album, marking almost a decade together. In the past ten years, BSP have built up a steady reputation as one of Britain’s most oddball, but also most-loved indie bands. The former has been established by their penchant for performing in unexpected corners of the British Isles and for their oft-eccentric lyrical subject matter. The latter is proved by consistent critical acclaim, including a Mercury Prize nomination for their 2008 release, Do You Like Rock Music?
Valhalla Dancehall opens with rather a surprise: ‘Who’s in Control?’ is a rallying battle cry, complete with shout-along chorus and a clearly terrestrial focus, marking a change from the band’s usual lyrical star-gazing. The song’s wish – that ‘protesting was sexy on a Saturday night’ – is politically on-topic, but in the context of the more graceful, more traditional BSP of the tracks that follow, the album’s opener feels rather out of place, as if it has been momentarily hi-jacked by an NME tipped lad-band.
The leading single, ‘Living is so Easy’, is another surprise, but a definite gem of one, wrapped in a lush, twinkling instrumental arrangement, reminiscent of Krautrock heroes Neu! Instead, they stick to their social commentary, bemoaning the excess of a party lifestyle, and sharply criticizing relentless consumerism as they continue to observe the girls ‘accessorised up to the hilt’ and incidents of ‘VPL in the SUV’.
In the end, Valhalla Dancehall is no real departure from the British Sea Power of old. With so many bands losing their charm in the desperate search for a drastic ‘new direction’, it is refreshing to see a band confident enough in their established sound to continue (largely) on their natural course of progression. This is an album of epic, graceful beauty, and for anyone for whom this is not enough, the final words of eleven-minute opus ‘Once More Now’ should enlighten as to how far this concerns these quiet indie treasures: ‘fuck ’em’ has never sounded so beautiful.