The lo-fi subtlety of The Decline of…, British Sea Power’s first offering of Echo & the Bunnymen songs rewritten by the Pixies, quickly gave way to a pursuit of stadium grandiosity. But in their occasional dalliance with bluster, their personality couldn’t always escape the atmosphere; Heaven is, after all, a place where nothing ever happens. Thankfully, last year’s Zeus EP signaled a desire to stretch out, sometimes too wildly, beyond quiet/loud, and this freedom permeates the new Valhalla Dancehall.
“Stunde Null” incorporates just the right amount of Franz Ferdinand disco sleaze; “Mongk II” drives along the highway that connects Trans Am and Primal Scream; and the Mojave 3/Mazzy Star-esque “Baby” precedes “Living Is So Easy,” a synth-heavy pop throwaway that may be the most memorable song on the record. In more recognizable territory, opener “Who’s In Control” is one of their biggest songs yet, every part a chorus, and “Thin Black Sail” is a manic appeal to those who think “Apologies To Insect Life” is still the best thing they ever did.
Though they manage to make every style their own, the new additions to the sonic family don’t always play well with the old familiars. When the obligatory 11- minute endless build of epic-for-epic’s-sake “Once More Now” leads into “Heavy Water,” a masterful slice of radio-ready mournful new wave pop coming soon to a movie trailer near you, you realize that this may be a transitional album, whether the band meant it that way or not. That kind of money, if it comes (it should), tends to have a majority vote in creative decisions. And yet, as they always have, I’ll bet somehow British Sea Power will still sound like underdogs.