THE BEGINNING

ON SECOND THOUGHTS: 15 years after its release, Hayley Scott remember’s Broadcast’s debut LP – a truly enduring record of psychedelia

broadcast

The things that inspire me most about these bands is that they have helped me to expand my thinking on what psychedelic is or can be now. I’m not interested in the bubble poster trip, ‘remember Woodstock’ idea of the sixties. What carries over for me is the idea of psychedelia as a door through to another way of thinking about sound and song. Not a world only reachable by hallucinogens but obtainable by questioning what we think is real and right, by challenging the conventions of form and temper.”

Talking about The United States Of America and White Noise in a 2009 edition of The Wire, Trish Keenan – the voice of Broadcast – in more ways than one, captures perfectly here the singularity of her band’s music. It was one that drew inspiration from esoteric soundscapes of bygone eras: Keenan once referred to The United States Of America’s eponymous 1968 album as her “bible”. As much as Broadcast’s sound had for itself an occult-like prominence, offering a wonderfully disparate alternative to the often degenerate sounds of the mid-90s and early ’00s, they were never shy of affirming the influences that informed them.

And by challenging perceptions of psychedelia, Broadcast were one of few bands whose appeal reached far and wide, while still remaining relatively obscure in the process. Through coalescing ’60s girl group hooks with wayward jazz and visceral, textured psychdedelia, the band’s 2000 debut, ‘The Noise Made By People’, enamoured indie retrophiles and discerning fans of bleepy electronics alike.

Of course, they weren’t the first to merge electronic music’s futuristic bend with elements of film noir: Trish Keenan’s detached vocals married with fragmented, melodic beats recall elements of Portishead, for example. The difference is Broadcast had an ability to conjure so many varied imageries other than simply evoking moody atmospherics – think visions of French black and white movies – there’s a lot of layers to get lost in here too.

As avid perfectionists, it’s no surprise that this LP was a lengthy, drawn-out process, and having initially planned on recording their debut in 1997, they toiled for too long with a series of producers who failed to cooperate with their obsessive perfectionism. They overcame this by starting from scratch, doing things on their own terms in a self-made studio. The seeming remoteness and complete immersion worked in their favour, and the result is aptly unfailing – though there are prevailing moments, neither one overshadows the other. Nothing is redundant; each song is as vital as the next. From the opening ominous swell of ‘Long Was The Year’ and the hushed reverie of ‘Echoe’s Answer’ to the sparse hauntology of ‘Until Then’, every track has its own imitable quality, no doubt thanks to Keenan’s soft and stoic vocals which serve as the perfect backdrop to the band’s otherworldly blend of minimal electronica and ’60s psychedelia.

Having taken inspiration from a wide variety of soundtrack forms including orchestral score, musique concrete sound collages and all-but-forgotten BBC radio plays of the ’60s and ’70s, this puts us on familiar ground when listening to ‘The Noise Made By People’ and its subsequent follow-ups; particularly 2009’s excellent ‘Broadcast And The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age’. However, while that album was often scattershot – the twiddling of a haunted radio dial – ‘The Noise Made By People’ takes a more leisurely approach, contemplating each figure over again and again in different arrangements and moods, giving the record a hypnotic, satisfying cohesion.

It’s hard not to revisit these songs with new-found despondency: there were tinges of sadness already at play here, but Keenan’s untimely death from pneumonia in 2011 makes it seem all the more profound. Take the introspective lull of ‘Until Then’, for example – a slow, meandering croon with a lyrical meaning that is as cryptic as it is wholly identifiable. It reeks of melancholy, but has this distant, fuzzy recollection of emotion, places and memories – a recurring stylistic theme throughout the band’s trajectory.

It’s true that Keenan still pervades this record more than any other Broadcast full-length: from the esoteric influences that informed it to her spectral choral refrains that skulk and swell in the darkness. There’s even a real thrill on the sublime instrumental closer ‘Dead the Long Year’, as you expect her voice to slide into focus, threatening to break into song. 15 years on, ‘The Noise Made By People’ has proved itself to be quietly innovative and enduring, but ultimately – for all its mystery and detachment – it is very much a human record.

dot

Next Article »