Broadcast is a band from Birmingham that plays a retro-futurist surreal pop
mix not unlike Stereolab's or
(thirty years earlier) the
United States Of America's.
Cheesy electronica (Richard Stevens), childish vocals (Trish Keenan) and
noir-atmospheric electro-acoustic scores embellish the
early singles: the drum-less Accidentals (Wurlitzer Jukebox, 1996),
the languid elegy Living Room (Duophonic, 1996),
the bouncy and much more uplifting The Book Lovers (Duophonic, 1996).
Work And Non Work (Warp, 1997) compiles the singles, including
the evocative jazzy Message From Home,
the word-less alien vignette Phantom,
the Stereolab-ian lullaby
The World Backwards.
The Noise Made By People (Warp, 2000) is mostly disappointing.
Most songs sound far less intriguing than the singles, whether they rely on
an oriental feel (Long Was The Year) or to
Bacharach's soporiferous brand of pop (Unchanging Window).
The Stereolab comparison applies to a handful of ditties that evoke
half-baked Sixties nostalgy (Papercuts, Come On Let's Go,
Look Outside), but the band slows down and trivializes the upbeat
melodies of that era, as if Petula Clark or Dusty Springfield was forced to
perform in a cocktail lounge instead of at a Prom.
What keeps most tracks alive is the excess of instrumentation.
The standouts come when the group loosens up, with less organic compositions
that expand the song format, as with
the ethereal and subaquatic orchestra of Echoes Answer, as in
the cosmic and exotic trip-hop of You Can Fall.
The instrumentals fare better than the songs because they tend to be anchored
to this (less derivative, more creative) approach.
the one that truly works, Tower Of Our Tuning, is the one that
does not match with the rest of the album: a cyclic, mostly percussive piece
that exhales a ghostly sense of supernatural forces
(somewhat reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane's House At Pooneil Corners).
Also intriguing is the closing Dead The Long Year, a no less frightening,
almost funeral procession of cryptic noises over a martial beat, a gaunt
version of the soundtrack for a horror B-movie.
For most of the album, Broadcast is bluffing with their
bizarre arrangements to simple ideas. Occasionally, and especially in
the instrumentals, they call their own bluff and show some substance.
But, in order to do that, they have to give up their own style.
The songs (Illumination) and the instrumentals
(Simple Chord) of the EP 2 (Warp 2000) provide a more interesting
picture of the band.
Similarly, the EP Pendulum (Warp, 2003) shows a lot more dynamics and imagination.
The cinematic quality of Haha Sound (Warp, 2003) prevails over its
Broadcast's sound is still more retro than futuristic, but wasn't futurism
Having streamlined the arrangements and opted for a more conventional song
format, this is also a poppier effort
(the distorted instrumental carillon and sweet vocal lullaby of Colour Me In, possibly the most charming ditty of their career,
the cubistic remix of caravan music and of Broadway show tunes of Lunch Hour Pops,
the naked The Little Bell),
although compensated by dissonant (and smoothly
integrated) instrumental passages (not to mention the brief instrumental pieces
such as Distorsion).
Broadcast have not abandoned eccentricity, but now the vocals are positively
Keenan's romantic girlish phrasing is contrasted with
a fibrillating electronic pattern in Man Is Not A Bird and
a boogie-like rhythm a` la Velvet Underground in
Trish Keenan's naive voice, the sound of innocent elegance, dominates the landscape, sometimes bordering on Enya-esque evanescence and tenderness (Valerie).
The pieces on Tender Buttons (Warp, 2005) are underdeveloped ideas
played at slow speed and decorated with trivial sound effects. All but one
(I Found The F) sound like the typical collection of B-sides and
Future Crayon (Warp, 2006) collects songs from their early
EPs (starting with Test Area, the B-side of Echo's Answer from 1999) and rarities from compilations (starting with Hammer Without a Master from 1998) that include some of their most experimental music (Minus Two or DDL) as well as several psychedelic ditties (Unchanging Window, Still Feels Like Tears, Poem of a Dead Song, Illumination).
Tim Felton of Broadcast and Billy Bainbridge of Plone launched
Seeland that debuted with the mediocre synth-pop of Tomorrow Today (LoAF, 2009).
Broadcast collaborated with Julian House's electronic ensemble Focus Group for
Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age (Warp, 2009). Except for
the lullaby The Be Colony, the music is much more experimental
than Broadcast's regular work, and possibly their artistic peak.
Trish Keenan died of pneumonia in january 2011.
Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age (Warp, 2010) was a collaboration
between Broadcast and the Focus Group (Julian House) that resurrected the
vintage electronic-pop sounds of the 1960s.
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