Cumbrian eccentro-rockers British Sea Power have succeed in creating a record so variable it makes a bag of liquorice all-sorts look like parma violets. New ‘Maxi-EP’ Zeus, released as a prelude to 4th LP Valhalla Dancehall, contains in equal parts accomplished songsmithery and haphazard rehearsal-room hi-jinx.
The title track ‘Zeus’ certainly fits into the former category; over a guitar riff that somehow contrives to sound as though it being played through panpipes, front man Yan describes his attempts to politely extricate himself from a nightmarish dinner party spent in the company of Rick Stein, Nikita Krushev and Wurzel Gummidge. Despite sitting in a similar sonic landscape to the more bombastic tracks off the last album Do You Like Rock Music?, the sing-a-long chorus is actually surprisingly reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand, but is thoroughly enjoyable.
Set an altogether different pace, ‘Bear’ and ‘Cleaning out the Rooms’ see British Sea Power at their most beautiful. The first is delivered in signature hushed, almost reverential tones, Yan’s vocals fairly bleeding repentance (“I’m so sorry angel / It’s a cruel cruel world”), and soon an explosion of spacey synths swirl proceedings into the stratosphere. ‘Cleaning out the Rooms’ is a reassuring quilt of interweaving guitar, violins and vocals, graced by tip-toeing vocals from bassist Hamilton. The titular clear-out seems to involve mental as well as physical junk, with the promise of a fresh start: “Dark clouds/drifting out of view/she’ll be coming soon”.
Once these gems dissolve away into a trebly piano ether, however, the rest of the EP seems like an afterthought. I’d like to tell you about ‘Mongk’, but I’m trying to pretend it hasn’t happened, so instead I’d best document that ‘Pardon My Friends’ plonks away prettily enough without ever feeling like around a proper song, ‘Kw/H’ messes around with vocoder because it can, while ‘Can we do it?’ sounds like a warm-up jam.
These weaker tracks feel more like the result of a quick search for tracks to bulk out the release than indicators of future direction – they recall the silly-but-entertaining ‘Pelican’ from Krankenhaus? (another album-training EP) more than anything from the stellar Do You Like Rock Music? or The Decline of British Sea Power. Overall, Zeus is definitely worth a listen for the title track and ‘Bear’ alone, with the other tracks serving as fun extras. Bring on Valhalla Dancehall!