It’s easy to forget how vague a word weird can be. In elementary school, weird was the term used for both the kid licking up paint from the floor and the kid over in the corner buried in a book. But is deeming reading weird appropriate? Is it bad to try to be different in the most refreshing way possible?
Answer “no” and move on to some other review; you’ll only end up taunting Brighton, England’s British Sea Power for what you reckon to be weirdness. On the five pieces’ debut, Decline of British Sea Power, released by Rough Trade, BSP veers off the beaten path, with Gregorian chants, nautical imagery and recordings of crashing waves. But combine that with breathy vocals and utter lack of pretentiousness, and suddenly that kid reading in the corner is creating an album of the most uncommon beauty.
Look no further than “Carrion,” the swirling, whirling single that sounds soothingly familiar yet remarkably new. With the glacial splendor of Echo and the Bunnymen, the vocals of Joy Division, and even a bit of Bowie thrown in to the mix, the track oozes with salt-water and seagulls. And this is without paying notice to the lyrics calling attention to the ocean (“I felt the lapping of an ebbing tide”), sung like a sea breeze by vocalist Yan.
Not all water is as calm as “Carrion”; both “Apologies To Insect Life” and “Favours In the Beetroot Fields,” ironically placed immediately after the Gregorian chanting, are full of slicing guitars and yelping vocals. And though the moment in “Apologies,” when Yan squeezes out the title’s words to a wall of sound, has the potential to drown, it instead crashes over you, taking you away with the tide. It is then, before the beauty of “Carrion” or the catchiness of “Remember Me” is fully realized, that BSP wins you over. Even the bonus track, “Childhood Memories,” could be considered weird, as it manages to avoid the typical bonus-track downfall. Neither an awful demo nor unworthy B-side, the track mixes a little whimsy to its smooth-sailing formula.
More focused and less sprawling than the Coral’s debut, Decline of… has that sense of wonderment that brings you back to those days of sitting off by yourself and reading. Which may be considered weird, but was never — and is still never — a bad thing.