[sic] Magazine

British Sea Power – Man of Aran

In 1934, an intrepid gent cast off from the isle of Aran in a squalling storm, back towards the mainland with tens of hours of heavy-reel footage under his arm. The sea mist hampered his journey, but did not compromise the contents of his film. Stumbling across the echoing harbour, Robert Flaherty aimed his vessel ashore before beginning his slow descent back to civilisation. There, he would arrange an atmospheric score to soundtrack his bleak, documentary-style film, before such a thing existed in the annals of time.

75 years later, in a surprising, but not shocking move, the entirely bucolic and aptly named British Sea Power would release a re-envisaged score to that windswept reel. Whilst some distance from 2008’s indie-rock stomper, Do You Like Rock Music?, BSPs fascination with all things anti-pop continues. To be fit for purpose, it is out with flag-waving, alt-chart acclaim and in with post-rock meditation and classical strings and horns. Their Man Of Aran is almost completely instrumental so as not to intrude too greatly on Flaherty’s work, the only vocal coming on a frosty cover of Jeff Alexander’s 1964 track ‘Come Wander With Me’.

Valid comparison comes in genre stalwarts Sigur Rós. The gentle lapping of strings and the sparse build to crescendo of ‘The South Sound’ are Agaetis Byrjun without the shoe-gazing and incomprehensible vocal drone. Elsewhere, the swelling and ponderous menace of ‘Tiger King’ brings Godspeed! You Black Emperor to mind. Opening with whale sounds, then early Joy Division, Warsaw-like, taught post-punk guitar work, the nervous and crashing post-rocker, ‘Spearing The Sunfish’ lasts 11 minutes, yet, in a good way, never seems complete.

As an isolated album, Man Of Aran requires patience. It is less eager to please than Sigur Rós, more discreet, yet more direct, than Godspeed! In being constrained by Flaherty’s work, BSP seem only to be a whistling wind, caught in between Sounds. Without those shackles, this album could have soared, rather than ebb and flow entirely satisfactorily. As a soundtrack to the film, generously provided with the release, Man Of Aran ticks all the boxes and is as such best enjoyed in context.

Note: Original score not included.