British Sea Power - Machineries Of Joy

Dark, stormy and gloriously deranged.

Label: Rough Trade

Rating: 7

With so many bands springing up as the ‘next big thing’, sometimes based on no more than the tightness of their jeans or the quirkiness of their hat, it’s occasionally easy to forget we have quite a few great British bands already. One in particular is often overlooked, and they even have British in their name.

British Sea Power aren’t your average band. They’re far too interesting – and ambitious – for that. This is a band who, since they released last record ‘Valhalla Dancehall’, have made a soundtrack for a documentary about Sergei Krikalev’s time on the space station Mir as well as soundtracking a film of archive footage of the British coast. And, that’s not to mention how viscerally, and brilliantly, unhinged they are as a live act.

And with ‘Machineries Of Joy’ they show no signs of reining in their eccentricities. Talking about the record singer Yan explained that the lyrics touch on ‘Franciscan monks, ketamine and French female bodybuilders turned erotic movie stars.’ It’s not exactly Jake Bugg.

Written in the Berwyn mountains in north Wales and recorded in Brighton with Dan Smith and mixer Ken Thomas, ‘Machineries Of Joy’ draws together the disparate styles that the band have touched upon previously and ties them together with their own idiosyncratic signature. Whether it’s the krautrock of the title track opener, the dead-eyed thunder of ‘Loving Animals’ or the touchingly esoteric ‘Hail Holy Mary’, each song is engrained with BSP’s unique and eccentric identity that’s shot though with Yan’s angelic, distinctively androgynous voice.

With their trademark wit and humour and tongues firmly in cheeks they’ve described the album as ‘a nice game of cards in pleasant company’. It’s a phrase which makes a weird sense when you listen to the album.

The title track starts like a sunrise, Kraftwerkian drone synths merge with the chorus of ‘we are magnificent machineries of joy.’ Yet as it proceeds it becomes clear this is the most nocturnal album the band have created. The bright precision gives way to the ragged, fuzzy jolt of ‘K Hole’ as Yan woops and sings ‘I think I took a little too much.’ It’s dark, stormy and gloriously deranged.

But that’s the only out and out rocker. ‘What You Need Most’ sounds like the song The Flaming Lips might write if they recorded in the Lake District (that is to say it’s brilliant) while as the album continues it gets more dreamlike. The brass of the wonderfully titled ‘Monsters of Sunderland’ drives the song forward and radio squiggles underpin the understated and lovely ‘Spring Has Sprung’.

The beautifully wistful ‘A Light Above Descending’s’ echoing guitar ends with Yan pleading ‘You do remember me don’t you?’ and the album climaxes with the haunting and bruised instrumentation and angelic backing vocals of ‘When a warm wind blows through the grass.’

The scope of their imagination, not to mention the vast array of the projects they’ve taken on, only serves to highlight the vast scope of British Sea Power’s vaulting ambition - but you also worry it might be getting in the way of them making the truly vital album they have in them. ‘Machineries Of Joy’ isn’t it, but what it is is a touching, ambitious and inventive album, and one which stands head and shoulders above most. We need more bands like British Sea Power.