Best Band in Britain

The blokes of British Sea Power are having the maritime of their lives.

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British Sea Power Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Boulevard in Cleveland Heights 9 p.m. Saturday, March 6. $10; call 216-241-5555
British Sea Power, bringing nautical ditties to the Grog - Shop Saturday.
British Sea Power, bringing nautical ditties to the Grog Shop Saturday.
The gurgling guitars and aching melodies that simmer below the surface of British Sea Power's buzz-heavy debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, are indicative of the band's game plan. At first glance, they look like a Joy Division-inspired group of highly literate, nautically obsessed schoolboys. But beneath the froth and layers of introspection is a band that likes to plug in, turn it up, and rattle the cages of convention. "The album is about landscape and memory and mortality," says guitarist Noble, who, like his four mates, goes by only a single name. "We're about stuff like that."

The British Sea Power saga starts in coastal Brighton, England, where inspiration sprang from sources both likely (Iggy Pop) and unlikely (Charles Lindbergh). And they're well-read lads: The album references Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek and 19th-century philosopher/art critic John Ruskin. "We bring as many ideas as we can into our music," Noble says. "And it's not just the music. It's the artwork [on record covers] and the videos that we make."

The band ties the musical knot between modern epic-guitar wankers the Doves and retro gloomy-romantics Echo & the Bunnymen. Moods vary among songs -- sometimes within songs -- and the record plays out like one of the grand pieces of art the band so freely associates with. "We wanted to make an album, rather than just a collection of songs," Noble says. "And we had a kind of concept behind it as well. We wanted to make it like a William Turner seascape. It's a bit of a silly ambition, but it's something we all agreed on."

Back home, the usual media hyperbole has followed the group. London's Sunday Times declared British Sea Power "the best band in Britain." The Decline of British Sea Power topped many of the country's year-end critics' polls, and its pre-album singles were hits with indie-minded kids. The CD is dark, droning, epochal, and just a little caught up in its own myth. But its vision -- whether taking on Patrick O'Brian-style sea tales or wailing viciously through cranked-up amplifiers -- is stimulating. Look no further than the art-school kids who show up at every gig. "There's this one girl who's been following us around," Noble explains. "She quit her job, and she's going to get a house with her boyfriend in the country, and she's just going to start writing. That's great to see."

Whether U.S. fans will follow suit during the group's Stateside tour depends on the number of listeners willing to chuck it all and tap into a band that favors plenty of obscure quotes, chords, and allusions from Europe's coastal culture. Though there probably won't be many, give the guys points for aspiration. "There isn't much imagination [in music] these days," Noble says. "Well, there are a lot of bands with good imaginations and ambition, but they're incredibly dull. They don't know what they're doing with their lives."

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