Album Review: British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy

By on Thursday, 23rd May 2013 at 2:30 pm

British Sea Power Machineries of Joy coverNever one to back away from a challenge, I was enthusiastic about taking a first listen to British Sea Power when editor Mary suggested I review their sixth full length album, ‘Machineries of Joy’. I’d heard of British Sea Power in passing and been warned that their sound was a lot to take in, but I didn’t even have enough background knowledge to preconceive any notions. Now, after extensive listening to the new album, I’m still not quite sure I know what to think.

My overwhelming impression of ‘Machineries of Joy’ is one of impenetrable cloudiness and fog. Its blurry, fuzzy bass lines and wailing guitars often obscure the whispered vocals, which causes the lyrics to get lost. There are some clever and even purely beautiful phrases scattered throughout the songs, but more often, the lyrics are unclear and unwieldy. The lack of distinguishable melody and the muttered, droning intonation of singer Yan (Scott Wilkinson) prevent any of them from sticking in the memory.

The album’s first single, title track ‘Machineries of Joy’ (video at the bottom of this post), draws the listener in very gently and slowly with hazy guitars and soft, husky vocals. Unfortunately, the song stretches on just a bit too long, with very little dynamic change or dramatic interest. (The album and song both take the title ‘Machineries of Joy’ from a collection of stories by Ray Bradbury. Not having read the stories myself, I can’t comment on that connection, but it’s worth looking into if you’re of a literary mind.) By contrast, the second track, ‘K Hole’, is a necessarily more upbeat number about a ketamine high. ‘K Hole’ is easily the most energetic song on the album, and its catchy chorus, ‘Staring down the cannon / We’re staring down the cannon / Of joy “ is among the album’s most memorable lyrics.

After that point, the next several songs seem to blur together indistinguishably. Even the edgy ‘Loving Animals’, with anxious opening lyric, “in for the kill / in for the kill / in for the kill”, fails to maintain its musical or dramatic tension long enough to make a lasting impression. The middle of the album seems to drift aimlessly, until final track ‘When a Warm Wind Blows Through the Grass’ provides a brief moment of lucidity with its mysterious, pulsating intro, its almost tribal percussion, and its echoing, chant-like vocals.

With 10 tracks coming in at just under 43 minutes, ‘Machineries of Joy’ feels like a much longer album than it really is. Its sleepy ambience drags heavily after the first two songs. Over the course of listening several times, I never felt that I gained any clarity as to the album’s intent or direction and I found it very difficult to connect emotionally with any of the songs. While I probably won’t revisit ‘Machineries of Joy” very often, I am sufficiently interested to take a look into British Sea Power’s extensive back catalog. Perhaps more context will help me put this album into clearer perspective.


‘Machineries of Joy’ is out now on Rough Trade Records. The album’s second single, ‘Loving Animals’, has just been added to BBC Radio 6 Music’s B-list. Watch the video for ‘Machineries of Joy’ below.


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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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