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  Sea of Brass
  British Sea Power

Golden Chariot

Release Date:


Reviewed by:

I enjoy the work of British Sea Power. They are an odd band that do a wide range of stuff from prog to rock and back again, but i have found them to be consistently interesting. When this promo came in i was excited because it seemed that they had been silent since 2011's Valhalla Dancehall, but it turns out that i missed an entire BSP record! I have no idea how this happened, but apparently they released an album called Machineries of Joy in 2013. Did they tour for that? I find it hard to believe that BSP came through Atlanta and i did not go see them...

Anyway, Sea of Brass is not a new BSP record. Instead, it appears that BSP looked at what they were doing and decided that it wasn't British enough. The logistics of having a record dispense piping hot tea was beyond them, so instead they decided to add a brass band to their sound.

Brass bands are a thing in the UK. In fact, i once saw an Ewan McGregor (pre-Obi Wan) movie where he was a guy in a brass band associated with a mine that was closing. It was called Brassed Off and is a real thing that i am not making up. Which raises the bizarre notion that British mines once had brass bands... i dunno why, but i guess they did. And that type of music -- a brass band playing slow, almost classical music -- is very British. In America such a band would be marching near a football team and/or playing John Phillip Sousa, but in Britain there is a sort of sophistication to it.

I suspect that either you will love this idea or roll your eyes and move on. That's fine. I can see how this much Britishness all at once might not be for everyone. I happen to fall into the "love it" category.

This record starts with the final tune from BSPís debut record. It's called Heavenly Waters and is a piano-tune that kind of wrapped up that album quietly. The start of this version is very orchestral, and for a moment when it comes on i think this is part of Sketches of Spain -- a dramatic trill of brass. But then an organ drone starts and those tapped BSP drums kick in and the song grows slowly. It builds to a huge sound, the brass soaring up as the guitars well in the middle. And i love the way it grows -- the drums going, the horns chiming and the guitars grinding. Just lovely. The song is seven minutes long, but really nice in a post-rock instrumental kind of way. That's odd, because BSP are not normally post-rock, but this version definitely sounds like the fusion of Tortoise, Miles Davis, and Talk Talk. What a great way to start a record.

Up next is Once More Now off of my most recent BSP record, Valhalla Dancehall. This is a slow pop song, a little melancholy as Yan starts out singing about "When your dream don't come true". The brass is a faint accompaniment, amplifying the melancholy of the tune.

The next song is Albertís Eyes, which apparently was the B-side to their first hit, Apologies to Insect Life. It's okay, but not noteworthy. I had never heard the original before, but with the brass added it is a nice slow BSP tune.

And then comes Atom off of their masterful Do You Like Rock Music? LP. I know this record back and forth, and in its original form this is a powerful mid-tempoed rocker. A hint of brass is added on the guitar upswells, which makes it even more dramatic. Wonderful.

The next three songs come off of the album that i missed. The first is A Light Above Descending. This is a slower song, the bass rumbling as frequent singer Yan sings breathily. Brass swells up on the choruses. This is a pretty tune.

Next is the title track to that missing LP, Machineries Of Joy, and it is a lovely tune. Matthew Wood (a seriously underrated drummer, IMHO) taps away furiously as the song kind of sways long. I love the way this song goes, growing as it swings along, the brass accentuating the high points.

The third and final missing LP song is When A Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass. This is a different sort of tune for them. The song is delicate and almost orchestral with that martial BSP beat and a repetitive guitar riff. But the horns swell over it all, making the track sound eerie and mournful.

And finally they wrap things up with another track from Do You Like Rock Music?, a song called The Great Skua. This is a kind of dramatic tune the grinds along, the guitar taking breaks to whine as the drums build, then exploding with grinding riffing. The horns follow the guitars, building when they do to a soaring climax. A great instrumental to wrap up the record.

I really like this. I like the brass accents added to the BSP songs, and think that this LP presents some interesting takes on their music. I think that it adds to their catalog, adding some depth to a few tunes. Your mileage may vary, of course.

The promo download they sent me was for the deluxe 3-CD version of this release. The first disc is what i detailed above. The second disc consists of songs recorded live during a tour BSP did in the UK where brass bands came and performed with them. On the whole that disc is pretty good, but two tunes really stand out to me.

I love the sparseness of A Wooden Horse, another song from their first LP. The live version here is stripped down to minimal guitar that is often overwhelmed by the brass, which is a really nice effect. I also like the wonderful swaying beat of No Need to Cry, a Do You Like Rock Music? tune with Hamilton's slightly sadder voice.

The third disc of the deluxe set is just recordings of brass parts. This is BSP made more British and then having the BSP stripped out of it. It's just a CD of brass music. I listened to it once, and that is probably all that i will ever listen to it. Even for me, that was a bit too much.

But the main record is pretty awesome.

Related Links:
Also on EvilSponge:
    Album: The Decline of British Sea Power
    Concert: Tues.10.May.05
    Album: Open Season
    Concert: Mon.21.Apr.08
    Album: Do You Like Rock Music?
    Concert: Sun.17.Apr.11
    Concert: Sat.2.Jul.11


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