Their name might make them sound like yet another group of Billy Childish-curated garage rock revivalists, but The British Expeditionary Force are a very different beast. This much is made obvious by title of their new album, “Chapter Two: Konstellation Neu” (and the fact it's the second in a conceptual trilogy), which suggests progressive krautrock influences rather than bare-bones punk purism.
If you don't remember “Chapter One”, it's probably because it's taken them five years to follow it up (considerably longer than the life expectancy of the original British Expeditionary Forces). The length of time between records is even more surprising considering that the former was laboriously constructed via e-mail between Justin Lockey (formerly of yourcodenameis: milo), his brother James, and singer Aid Burrows, while, “Chapter Two” was created in one studio with all parties present, which you'd think would be a speedier affair.
Whatever the reason for their tardiness, the important thing is that “Chapter Two” provides a satisfying, more expansive update of its forerunner. The album art recalls the spaceship from “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and there's a kind of retro-futurism at play throughout. Opener “Commotion” sets the scene nicely, all minimal organs and beautiful Beta Band-esque vocal harmonies, soothingly explaining that “all sorts of commotion / [are] just drops in the ocean”.
However, retro-futurism is a difficult thing to pull off, as it's incredibly dependent on what's in vogue. At the moment, most favour music that would've sounded forward-thinking in the late seventies-early eighties, like Maria Minerva's Pyrolator-like lo-fi electro-pop or Zombie Zombie's re-imaginings of classic film scores.
The B.E.F.'s problem is that they sound more like what sounded futuristic around the turn of the century. The indie + beats formula of “Where You Go I Will Follow” and “Strange Aftertaste” is like visiting UNKLE in hospital and finding them a whole lot cheerier after a long course of anti-depressants, while Aid Burrows' nasal Northern accent also means it's hard to listen to “Cogs And Chemicals” without expecting Ian Brown to take over and start ranting about how dolphins were monkeys, like Charles Darwin if the first thing he'd discovered on the Galapagos Islands had been a forest of cannabis.
The net effect is that much of the music sounds oddly dated, but that shouldn't detract too much from what is a winningly well-put-together record. “End Music” (which actually appears halfway through the album) manages to put into focus the multi-genre meanderings of many post-rock bands, like a steadier 65daysofstatic or a subtler Subtle. “Crack In The Clouds” meanwhile is a blissful combination of layered, synthesized vocal samples and electronic blurts, with Burrows striking just the right tone with his restrained vocals.
Restraint is not the buzzword of this record though. As Burrows explains, “the tactic we've used is the 'more' method. More sounds, more layers, more people. More face-to-face, more angles, more songs”. Sometimes it's too much – “When All Of This Is Done” starts sweetly enough, but rises to an overwrought cacophony – but occasionally the excess reaps rewards, such as the full-blown choir that sees out “Strange Aftertaste”. “You can't just blame one bit of straw when the camel's back breaks”, reason the lyrics on the latter, but the camel here remains upright despite having the kitchen sink hurled at its hump.
Title track “Konstellation Neu” is more minimal, using little more than piano edits and the odd distant, squalling guitar to create something akin to James Blake if he didn't take himself so painfully seriously. And though the final track “Irons In Fires” ladles the elements on more thickly, with big, “When The Levee Breaks” drums taking centre-stage, it does so in slow waves that make the closing crescendo sound wholly organic.
Perhaps that's down to their change in method from e-mail-based isolation to group interaction. Whatever the reason, it certainly whets the appetite for the next instalment. Hopefully “Chapter Three” won't take another five years to write...