British Sea Power have been known to ask ‘Do You Like Rock Music?‘, but their latest effort is closer to post-rock than all that: ambient noise, keening other-worldliness, and chanting vocals make up the bedrock of Man of Aran, a soundtrack album to the docudrama of the same name. The soundscape takes us from acoustic to electronic and back again, representing more a manipulation of sonic textures than a collection of songs or even, strictly speaking, anything so prosaic as tunes.
The soundtrack nevertheless works as an album in and of itself – I know, because I still haven’t found time to watch the DVD which comes with it. My exposure to the music so far, then, is purely aural, a little like reading a play without seeing it on stage, yet the music is evocative without visual crutches. There are passages which feel to the listener like filler, to be sure, yet at the same time they act as connective tissue between the most significant movements – probably much the same function they serve within the context of the film. There’s a very clear structure and flow to these pieces, from highest moment to most seemingly perfunctory.
This strength of thought behind the collection is what lends it its lingering power: though mood and instrumentation ebb, returning motifs and the sheer stately progression of it all produce an overall effect approaching the perfect. There is no real attempt at ‘authenticity’ (a good thing, given the questionable truthiness of the film itself), but every moment feels apposite, carefully crafted and deliberately placed. The album is in its own way as total a statement as the band have made: if it is deliberately focused (and thus inevitably limited), the quiet majesty of The South Sound or the eerie confusion of Spearing the Sunfish are some of the most memorable music British Sea Power have produced; not only that, they sit within a unity of mood music which as an album, let alone a soundtrack, is one of the ‘must listens’ of the year.