Having grazed mainstream success with the Mercury nominated, top ten album Do You Like Rock Music?, many might expect British Sea Power to capitalise with another record of rousing indie anthems. But those who have followed their awkward, obstinate career closely won't be shocked by their decision to follow it with an almost entirely instrumental new soundtrack to a 1934 cult quasi-documentary about Irish fishermen. More surprising is how beautifully it works.
The CD of Man Of Aran comes bundled with the reissued DVD documentary of the same name, and it's true that some of this music only works fully when coupled with that film's gloomily melodramatic black and white images of fishermen battling the storm-battered seas off the Isles Of Aran. But much of it is so brooding, mysterious and evocative that it stands perfectly well alone, a testament to the band's musical imagination and assurance.
The songs vary between dreamy, near-acoustic reveries and dramatic electronic epics, reflecting a film that drifts between stagey visions of a lost way of life and rawer scenes of unforgiving, awesome nature. Of the briefer songs, Man of Aran somehow combines stillness and grandeur, a piano endlessly looping while synths rumble like whales in the depths. Of the epics, the Neu!-influenced Spearing The Sunfish opens as murmur and echo, until fierce percussion and brutal guitars whip up the tension of a storm gathering, before finally collapsing into the chaos of its arrival.
The songs which work best when divorced from the film are Boy Vertiginous, with its delicately plucked guitars and descending chords, and the graceful, shimmering It Comes Back Again, which has the spooked ecstasy and echoing synths of Primal Scream's Higher Than The Sun. Less effective are Tiger King, which meanders vaguely when not propped up by the film's imagery, and the only vocal song, the cloying, folksy duet Come Wander With Me.
In a world where most indie shufflers are so desperate to cling to success that they would never risk surprising their audience, British Sea Power are to be cherished for their originality and daring. The strange and beautiful Man Of Aran demonstrates why. --Jaime Gill
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