British Sea Power

Man of Aran

Rating: 2.5

Label: Rough Trade Records

British Sea Power has been poised for mainstream success since their 2003 debut The Decline of British Sea Power. With widespread critical acclaim and one of the strongest live shows in music today, the foundation has been laid for the four-piece from Brighton, England to become a household name. All British Sea Power needs is one of those iPod commercial anthems or one well-placed song in a movie and they’ll be neck-and-neck with major leaguers like Arcade Fire. But while Arcade Fire is lending songs to the upcoming Where The Wild Things Are adaptation, British Sea Power have opted for a much stranger project.

In 1934, director Robert J. Flaherty helped shape the docufiction genre with his film Man of Aran. Concerned more with cinematography and storytelling, Man of Aran followed the simple inhabitants of the Aran Islands, while taking a few creative liberties like faking a dangerous storm, assembling the best looking islanders to act like a family and pretending long-abandoned methods of fishing were still being widely used. What the film lacked in honesty it made up for in beauty. For its 2009 re-release, British Sea Power was asked to write the full score.

How well the album will be received depends almost solely on whether Man of Aran is considered a score or the follow-up to 2008’s lauded Do You Like Rock Music?

As a score, Man of Aran works aesthetically, albeit not naturally. The electric guitars and the heavy use of static noise match the film’s dynamics, but are a distracting anachronism against the film’s grainy, traditional back-and-white footage. The only exception is “The Currach,” a lighthearted piano waltz led by a viola melody that actually sounds authentically Irish (thankfully in direct contrast with the novelty jigs that bastardize Irish music in America).

As a British Sea Power album, Man of Aran works even less. Most of the tracks juxtapose pretty string swells with harsh guitar tones. The product is 73 minutes of an interesting concept that eventually blends together to be textural, although not entirely memorable. The exception is “Come Wander With Me,” which serves as a haunting anticlimax for Aran and would be a daring addition to British Sea Power’s rowdy live show.

There is plenty to appreciate about this album. Every song feels like there are good ideas floating around, even if they don’t always come into focus. The strings are a particular highlight, and never fail to capture the emotion of what is on screen. Percussion is used sparingly, making every punctuated hit meaningful. The music is purposefully composed to stand on its own while not upstaging the film. And of course there is the bravery in general of British Sea Power attempting such a daunting project. While this is not the follow-up to Rock Music anyone was hoping fo, Man of Aran reaffirms British Sea Power as a continually fearless and unpredictable band, when most musicians seem to be anything but.

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