Thalassophobia

Thalassophobia is the fear of the sea.

I’m not afraid of the sea. I grew up by it. I could see it from my bedroom window as a child. I walked along a strip of coast every day for years on my way to the train station, on my way both to school and to work. I’m not a swimmer nor a fisherman so I’ve never spent much time in it or on it, but I’ve spent an awfully large amount of time pondering it.

This is the bit where I moan about having missed records last year that I should have bought the day they came out, rushed home with, put in the CD player, and loved intensely like a 17-year-old making a 30-mile-round pilgrimage. But I’m 31 now and I’ve always been arbitrarily dismissive of some things, only to about-face later.

Which is me saying that I should have bought the Zeus EP by British Sea Power last year, but in 2008 I was a little nonplussed by Do You Like Rock Music, which, with Graham Sutton at the helm, I had expected to adore, so I ignored Man Of Aran in 2009, and I ignored Zeus in November. I have corrected both now. I quite like Do You Like Rock Music now too.

BSP (I’m not typing the name in full anymore) have a song called Larsen B, which is about an ice shelf in the Weddell Sea which collapsed and broke up in early 2002. The lyrics in bridge go: “oh Larsen B / desalinate the barren sea”. It’s beautiful, and kinetic, and my second favourite song on Open Season, BSP’s second album, and my favourite until now. Oceanic desalination due to melting ice caps is the cause of the disastrous freeze in the film The Day After Tomorrow, by the way.

My favourite song on that record is called North Hanging Rock, which is about either nature photography or wanting to be buried in a biodegradable cardboard coffin or being so distraught at man’s inhumanity to nature or a friend who died young or something else that I can’t identify. I don’t normally pay much attention to the lyrics.

Speaking of lyrics, Simon Price reviewed BSP’s new album in the Independent on Sunday, and gave it a glowing review. He spent four paragraphs writing about the lyrics, and one about the music, plus one to open and one to conclude. So much music journalism has an inability to deal with music criticism as anything but the shunned, hidden-in-the-attic cousin of literary criticism. This frustrates me. Music is more than lyrics. I’m absolutely sure that Simon Price is aware of this, but he has an audience to consider when writing for The Independent on Sunday, and one that’s probably more used to literary criticism than music criticism. Not that I can do proper musicological analysis. I just splurge emotion and attempts at synaesthetic description.

There’s a song on Zeus called Bear which is a disenchanted spacious drift that falls apart and then coalesces in a never-ending swathe of synthesizers and Escher-esque insistently tumbling drums. It’s wonderful, and effectively a b-side.

I rushed into town today and bought Valhalla Dancehall, which I’d listened to a couple of times via a live stream from The Guardian’s website. It cost me a tenner in Fopp. I didn’t get it in HMV because I could park closer to Fopp. These things count.

People have often, in the last few years, described BSP as being a bit like Arcade Fire. I don’t hear that at all. It irritates me. It also irritates me that people are saying that Valhalla Dancehall is “more of the same”. It’s not; it’s a little bit different. Zeus edged towards krautrock and the drifting sadness that North Hanging Rock hinted at, even though the title track was still pounding drums pop fun. There’s a song on Valhalla Dancehall that sounds a little like really early Verve. Pre-definite article. There’s also a sub-2-minute puncture wound called Thin Black Sail which claims to have “psychedelic” and “many merits”. Valhalla Dancehall as a whole has many merits. The loud bits (Mongk II, Who’s In Control?, Stunde Noll) are very loud, fast, aggressive. The quiet bits (Once More Now, Baby, Cleaning Out The Rooms) are very quiet, delicate, beautiful. Phenomenologically so. They are a phenomenon. A delicate, beatific, physically appealing phenomenon.

Cleaning Out The Rooms was on Zeus last November. It is beautiful; one might refer to it as the album’s centrepiece. It is built around hypnotic drums, washes of sound that spiral inwards on themselves. It does that thing that North Hanging Rock does. When I listened to Man Of Aran for the first time at the weekend I was delighted to hear North Hanging Rock re-imagined as Boy Vertiginously. I imagine it works very well as a soundtrack. I shall watch the film soon.

We Are Sound is both a very loud bit and a very quiet bit. It works. It sounds awesome. The whole thing does; layers of sound that are structurally sound, that you can collapse and rebuild, walk around inside of, and find doorways within that lead to other parts of the song.

People have been known to accuse BSP of being “self-consciously epic”. Pitchfork gave Do You Like Rock Music the cheeky and misunderstanding score of “U2 out of 10”. I doubt BSP listen to U2 much, or want to sound like them. If their songs are epic, it is because they are about literally vast landscapes, and not the kind of lowest-common-denominator “universal” “themes” that Coldplay write about. I would not listen to BSP while doing the dishes, gazing out of the window, and feeling wistful about being tied to a mortgage and never being able to write that novel I’d always dreamed of. I have listened to BSP whilst atop a grand cliff, observing the rolling, terrifying sea, imagining a time when it reclaims the fragile sandstone cliff that my childhood home was built upon.

I’ve written just over 1,000 words in a little over 40 minutes. That’s enough.

I like Valhalla Dancehall very much, and I look forward to liking it more and more.

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3 responses to “Thalassophobia

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Thalassophobia « Sick Mouthy -- Topsy.com

  2. Nice read. “Do You Like Rock Music” left me cold, but you’ve got me interested in hearing their latest (loved their fist two albums).

  3. Pingback: Albums of 2011 (so far) | Sick Mouthy

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