1) Man Of Aran; 2) The South Sound; 3) Come Wander With Me; 4) Tiger King; 5) The Curach; 6) Vertiginous; 7) The Sunfish; 8) Coneely Of The West; 9) The North Sound; 10) Woman Of Aran; 11) It Comes Back Again; 12) No Man Is An Archipelago.
I have to thank this album for its educational value on my behalf — although I did know about Nanook Of The North and have even seen bits of it, I neither remembered that it was originally filmed by Robert Flaherty, nor did I know of him as a major force in the dubious genre of «ethnofiction». Apparently, Man Of Aran is one of his better known documentaries, this time, about a bunch of «primitive» Irish seamen living in pre-modern conditions on the Aran Islands. Originally slagged off as being almost completely staged, yes, but people have relented over time: after all, moving pictures do not necessarily have to be as true to life as scientific volumes, and a little staged excitement can be excused.
Anyway, for the 2009 DVD release of the movie, the people in charge approached none other than British Sea Power with the request to provide a new soundtrack. Apparently, for an «epic» movie like that, they needed something appropriate, and who would be the most «epic» band in the neighborhood? And not just «epic», but with a special taste for sea-related topics and oceanic effects? There you go.
The album is a soundtrack, mind you. There is only one vocal number: ʽCome Wander With Meʼ, a cover of an old tune from Twilight Zone sung by a guest star rather than Yan — Cedric Bixler-Zavala of the Mars Volta. Everything else is strictly instrumental: loud, lengthy, echoey, very British Sea Power-ish, and about as exciting as you would expect from a coherent soundtrack to an old documentary.
The tracks are not entirely of an ambient nature. ʽThe Sunfishʼ, in all of its 11-minute «glory», and ʽThe North Soundʼ, for instance, are propelled forward at speedy tempos and sometimes even with nicely distorted post-punk riffage, probably reflecting the tendency of the native population of Aran to follow up a hard day's work by coming home, plugging in, and going at it like there was no work tomorrow. Unfortunately, all of them would end up sounding just like British Sea Power did on Do You Like Rock Music?
Other sonic varieties include cutesy piano-and-chimes waltzing (ʽThe Curachʼ), slow dreamy folk shuffles, often with solid help from new band member Abi Fry on viola (ʽConeely Of The Westʼ), and, of course, simply lots and lots of droney atmosphere (title track, etc.). If you can get in the spirit, the sonic waves might really transport you to a different place — not necessarily to Aran, though, because the soundtrack is just too dreamy and epic-romantic to be an appropriate accompaniment to the rowdy, troublesome life of a pre-industrial population. Maybe to Aldebaran, or to Arrakis (although the latter might have some problems with supporting an oceanic environment).
Overall, there is no attempt here to adopt any sort of different musical personality in order to «match the individual vision of Roberty Flaherty». The band just does what it wants to do, cutting out the vocals and limiting the «rock'n'roll drive» for technical reasons, but in everything else, not advancing seriously anywhere beyond their latest albums (for comparison, when one of their apparent idols, Neil Young, did his own soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, it managed at once to sound Neil Young-ish — and also sound like nothing he'd ever done before). Fans will be happy, non-fans like me will probably be indifferent. But at least, unlike Do You Like Rock Music?, this release does not even pretend to stocking solid, memorable melodies. And the final decision whether it works well as a soundtrack will have to be made by someone else — I have not seen the movie, nor do I plan to in the nearest future.