Feats of Strength: British Sea Power

The profile of British Sea Power has diminished considerably in recent years, which makes the title of their debut unfortunately prescient.  While there are several things that I love about Open Season and Do You Like Rock Music?, there is still a certain quality about The Decline of British Sea Power that puts it a cut above and helps establish it as one of the great indie rock records of the last decade.  The band found the perfect mixture of idiosyncratic rockers, catchy anthems, and gorgeous ballads, and twelve years later I still find the record as fresh as it was the first time I listened to it.

There are several extraordinary moments worthy of discussion on Decline, from the bizarre “Apologies to Insect Life” to the epic guitar freak-out of “Lately” to the dazzling instrumental “Heavenly Waters” that closes the album.  But there is one particular aspect from the middle section of the album that we want to single out for closer inspection, when the band runs through a string of songs packed with hooks.  Even amid all those great tracks, the propulsive and energetic “Remember Me” stands out and gets stuck in your head for days, and the key is a subtle strategy employed by the drummer Wood.

The immediate element that grabs your attention is the jagged and raucous twin guitar attack from Yan and Noble, a trebly, noisy blast packed with bends that doesn’t bother to stop to catch its breath as it jumps from riff to riff.  Of course, even after multiple deep listens you aren’t going to shake off those prominent leads, but you can pick up on some of the other parts hidden underneath the surface, such as the brilliant drumwork.  Wood does an excellent job from start-to-finish on this song, expertly deploying fills and keeping a rock-solid beat amid all the surrounding chaos.  I can point to his ridiculous snare-rolls or deft cymbal-work, but the element that I love the most is a very simple trick he does to keep up the energy and provide some variety to keep the song from getting stale.  Listen carefully to the verse (around the :47 mark), and pay attention to how Wood shifts his pattern with each lyrical phrase.  The first line is a standard beat, but then it shifts to a double-time beat on the hi-hat for the next phrase; this alternating structure is repeated throughout the song.

It’s a very small detail, but it’s an excellent example of a drummer providing some extra creativity by deviating from the standard approach, yet not doing too much to overshadow the work of the rest of the band.  By switching between the two patterns, Wood provides an extra push-and-pull to the song and establishes an additional forward momentum, driving the song through the verse into the chorus.  There are several other excellent moments in the song, but this is something that I listen for every time I hear the song.

However, if that’s not satisfying enough for you, then take a few minutes to enjoy the tranquil beauty of “Heavenly Waters”.


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