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British Sea Power

Valhalla Dancehall

Rating: 1.7/5.0

Label: Rough Trade

Since their small-time post-punk debut The Decline of British Sea Power in 2003, this Brighton, England six-piece have transformed their edgy sound in to shiny pieces of guitar pop, embodying shades of the Gaslight Anthem and Superchunk. Unlike those two outfits though, British Sea Power lack the power and intensity to sustain a punk-driven sound over the course of an entire album. Valhalla Dancehall, the fifth release from the band coming on the heels of the Robert Flaherty-inspired Man of Aran score, is cumulative proof that British Sea Power have an ear for layered compositions, but lack the transcendent nature to make them more than a passing interest.

There is a certain amount of visceral power on Valhalla Dancehall that is both infectious and superbly constructed. Opening track “Who’s in Control” has a blazing chorus of stop-and-start power chords and an undeniably earworm-y guitar line. It’s a fun, nonchalant track, punctuated by lead singer Yan giddily yelping, “Sometimes I wish protesting/ Was sexy on a Saturday night.” Other tracks, like the fire-powered “Thin Black Sail” and the shimmering “We Are Sound” revel in the sense of looseness that “Who’s in Control” informs.

Just as British Sea Power is a finely tuned machine when chugging along with a sense of flagrant, post-punk attitude, they are equally monotonous and mediocre when they choose to switch gears. “Luna” is a sluggish, scattered ballad filled with pointless echo effects and handclaps that falls right in the middle of the record, killing all the momentum the first half built up. The same can be said for the latter half, which is filled with “epic” song structures that start to push the patience of even the most tolerant listener. The seven-minute “Cleaning Out the Rooms” can’t decide if it wants to be a long running piece of pop ambition or a lesson in dreamy noise rock, resulting in a song that sounds like Coldplay fucking with the production of a Ponytail album.

As the album moves closer and closer to its overwrought one-hour runtime, it becomes harder to defend the charms of the first few tracks, which seem distant at record’s end. Heavy doses of bass drums, soaring guitar and inexplicable electronics plague “Living is So Easy” and the 11-minute “Once More Now,” a feeling of jovial freedom replaced by indulgent, boring competency. An austere, unyielding sense of song structure can only compensate for genre complacency for so long. One journey through Valhalla Dancehall is more than enough to cement British Sea Power as a mere footnote of indie rock.

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