The space between

To take a page from Cracker’s David Lowery, what the world needs now is an overly earnest rock band like we need a hole in our heads. That being said, before listening to British Sea Power, it’s probably in audiences’ best interests to start fitting themselves for that hole, because the band operates entirely within that overly earnest realm. It’s a noble world where the rulebook is out the window, the constitution is a chord book and the army defending freedom is a Fender Stratocaster.

Rule, Britannia! British Sea Power’s recent album asks one of the most burning questions in pop culture today: Do You Like Rock Music?

But don’t think for a moment that this is just standard guitar rock. Instead of blazing solos and breakneck speed, the four-piece from Brighton, England, builds its songs around atmospheric swells of guitars. The group doesn’t create music for musicians; instead, it creates music for music fans. But that doesn’t mean that the band isn’t willing to throw down from time to time.

“I like a good solo every now and again,” says a laughing Neil Wilkinson, the band’s guitarist/bassist, who performs under the name Hamilton.

What makes BSP’s music so appealing is the relative sense of peace that lives between the near-orchestral squalls of guitar and drums. It’s music that is never quite at peace with itself, but it works.

“There’s a bit more space on this album than other ones,” Wilkinson offers, adding that “space is a marvelous little thing.”

That “marvelous little thing” is in abundance on the group’s third full-length album, Do You Like Rock Music? (Rough Trade, 2008), and it chimes through the band’s wall-of-sound approach to songcraft to create a tangible sense of atmosphere. But those moments on the album, while sounding natural, are actually the result of countless hours of trial and error.

“A lot of it is just an experiment,” Wilkinson reveals. He explains that in recording, “you just have to find a little bit of room to create things and to work on ideas. Some of it is things you hear in your head, and some of it is your influences, the things you like. We had a lot of ideas for layers and atmospheres with the songs. We had originally recorded the album as live as we could, but we didn’t like the results. So we recorded some more tracks that were more atmospheric, and we were quite happy with those results.”

But sterile, modern recording studios weren’t the only places that the band chose to court their collective muse. The band also recorded in a few unorthodox locations, including an old concrete structure with, as Wilkinson recalls, “a 100-foot tower with thick concrete walls that hadn’t been used in years. The only people who used it were rock climbers who would climb up the side of it.”

Beginning with a fade-in chant (“All in It”) and ending with a sound collage (“We Close Our Eyes”), Do You Like Rock Music? treats listeners to a gently rolling sonic cascade. To their credit, British Sea Power never seems to be aware of the scope and beauty of the art they are creating. Do You Like Rock Music? is an album that is as charming and unassuming as its title, as much a rhetorical question for audiences as it is an invitation to look inside.

“The title of the album is a direct one,” Wilkinson notes. “You get a lot of bands these days that title things with these obscure kinds of thoughts. We wanted to get away from that and redirect people’s attention to the fact that we’re a good rock band. We want to ask people, ‘What is good rock music to you?’ This album is our idea of what good rock music could be.”

[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]


who:British Sea Power with The Rosebuds and Jeffrey Lewis
what:Atmospheric indie rock
where:Grey Eagle
when:Sunday, May 4. 8 p.m. ($12. www.thegreyeagle.com or 232-5800)

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