- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

British Sea Power’s lead vocalist, Yan, refers to the band as “militant pastoralists.” Anyone lucky enough to see the group’s live show or hear its astonishing debut album understands why.

During the moments before British Sea Power performs one of its thunderous, Mother Earth-channeling sets, crew members decorate the stage with locally grown foliage and a few faux birds.

By recasting a typically dark and familiar club scene as a quaint outdoor setting, the band signals its bonds with “nature and all its loveliness” as it tries to “give people a different perspective…[and] open up the senses a little bit,” says singer and guitarist Yan.

The tradition began more than three years ago, when the band started a monthly music night at a local club in Brighton, on the south coast of England. The surprising visuals extend to the five band members’ stage attire, a jumble of outdoorsman’s hunting jackets, long, woolly socks and World War II surplus military fatigues. The hint of mystery persists in the band members’ refusal to use anything but single names.

The group, which visits the Black Cat on Monday, tries to imagine that rock music was created in England in the 1930s rather than in the United States in the 1950s.

“What we’re after,” says Yan, “is a sense of timelessness.”

The principle shapes the sonic dramas of the group’s debut album, “The Decline of British Sea Power,” released in the United States in September. .The disc’s 13 tracks majestically evoke two sides of nature, the beautiful and the bleak.

On “Apologies to Insect Life,” guitars clang and quake, spitting out jagged notes that sting like hailstones. The subterranean bass line on “Remember Me” intensifies Yan’s desperate query, “Will you remember me?”

“Lately” begins the first of its 14 minutes as the musical equivalent of a splendid summer day, only to be devastated by a level-5 hurricane. Highly expressive artists, such as the English Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner, inspire the album’s atmospheric, highly visual quality, Yan says.

The band presents endless contrasts: CD artwork that displays rifle barrels stuffed with a shovel and pitchfork; the ironic, self-deprecating album title; and the serene stage set followed by a relentless show.

During a show in August at the Black Cat, Yan, his brother Hamilton (bass and guitar), Noble (guitar), Wood (drums) and Eamon (keyboards and marching drum) connected so completely with the music that they seemed to lose all sense of self. Their stares sliced through the crowd and out the back wall of the club.

On these kinds of nights, Yan says, he allows his actions “to happen without monitoring the ideas and thinking about if it’s a good thing or bad thing.”

Trans Am’s new CD, “Liberation,” could be a natural for Democratic fund-raisers . Written after the officially declared end to major combat in Iraq, the album’s twitchy electronic beats and sinister keyboard wails embody the anxiety of a nation — and a nation’s capital — at war.

The District-based group didn’t set out to write an overtly political album. The music and themes developed organically last summer, says drummer Sebastian Thomson.

Each day, Mr. Thomson, Nathan Means (bass, keyboard, vocals) and Philip Manley (guitar, keyboards, bass, vocals) met in their Chinatown recording studio, and their conversations eventually turned to the latest news about the war.

The protest themes “just crept into the making of the record,” Mr. Thomson says during a phone interview. “There was so little questioning of why [the war] was happening, it was our duty to use what little bit of notoriety we have to bring that up.” The band brings its message to the Black Cat tomorrow.

The album title alludes to the freedom sought by District residents. The discs ominous tones suggest these residents are traumatized by heightened terror alerts, omnipresent rocket launchers and a crackdown on civil liberties.

Trans Am, a primarily instrumental group that has been “98 percent apolitical” on its past six albums and three EPs, released the songs as a revolt against complacency and the media’s lack of skepticism, Mr. Thomson says.

“I just want people to be more critical” of the administration, he says. “It’s OK to question what your government is doing, and it’s not unpatriotic.”

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