Bowie, Bowie, Bowie.
Open Season, the new release by British Sea Power is audibly influenced by the great glammed one, Ziggy Stardust himself — so much so that I had to catch myself a few times thinking I'd accidentally slipped in the wrong disc when first reviewing this album. But being Bowie, it ain't a bad thing.
The five lads who call my favorite English seaside town (Brighton) home come clean with their style on Open Season, their second full-length release on Rough Trade. Their debut The Decline of British Sea Power had its crooning moments ("Carrion", "Blackout"), but that album was also offset with angular punky numbers juxtaposed with calm, lulling Gregorian chants. Decline… was a tad schizophrenic, even unbalanced. Open Season, however, unifies the band under a subtler facade. On their latest, BSP lose a dash of their bitters. The harsh bite of vinegar that flavored Decline has mellowed into a sweeter variation, like that aged balsamic on your pantry shelf, and it's a flavor to savor.
The acid guitars still occasionally fizz in a wash of feedback and the percussion punches powerfully with impressive metronome-worthy delivery, but as a whole, the unit of BSP is gently restrained. The keys soften the edges. Vocalist Yan, whose tortured vocals painted the tunes peppered with literary and historic references on Decline…, now swoops low to a hushed, smooth lullaby and that unmistakably British croon.
It is the guitars, oh the guitars, that ice the cake and make Open Season the quieter, matured, more adult version of its puckish younger brother, Decline…. There are spacey distortion-infused lines, open sun-drenched swells and gut ripping musical eulogies abounding.
The record may play heavy on melancholia. And what Brit band doesn't? It's likely got to do with the drizzling grey rain and constant highs/lows of tea addiction. But there's also a joyful jaunt to Open Season that propels the album forward like a gleeful schoolboy sporting knickers, a stark white buttoned-up shirt and a tiny tie on the last day of grammar school.
The record as a whole evokes forlorn, longing moments paired with seductively jovial chords-again, a primarily British trait perfected by BSP forefathers The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen and Bowie. Tracks like "North Hanging Rock" and "Be Gone" epitomize this melodrama. The comforting "Please Stand Up" feels charmingly heard-before with its sweeping dramatic guitar intro, whispery-hushed vocals, and sadness-into — sunrise new-day melodies. "Be Gone" is so undeniably David Bowie with its layered chorus, soaring vocals and trembling tenor. Though I have held this CD in my possession not yet a full week, I already see myself singing along mightily to the sprightly Smiths-ish "Victorian Lace" come summertime, windows down, driving to the beach with the wind in my hair.
All in all, the tamer BSP have crafted an 11-song stunning follow-up that shrugs at modern inconveniences like the "sophomore slump," instead proffering beautiful, sweeping, epic soundscapes. The band may have existed on the periphery for several years (A fact perhaps not that surprising given the five first-name-only lads' odd penchant for WWI uniforms and stuffed fowl. Lest we forget that this is the group who tote an assortment of flora and fauna — some real, some faux — to the stage for their live gigs.) But with Open Season, the periphery take cover, the college-rock crowd beware and the mainstream radio listeners assemble your armor: BSP is about to aim, fire and quite possibly blow over the modern music landscape.