Sharps & Flats

Futures past to past futures, Broadcast fuse the cool sounds of '60s films to singer Trish Keenan's chilly fables.


Carlene Bauer
May 8, 2000 8:00PM (UTC)

"You won't find it by yourself," sings Broadcast's Trish Keenan, over an electronically generated whirl of Bacharachian psychedelia. "You're going to need some help/And you won't fail with me around/Come on let's go."

The song -- "Come On Let's Go," from the English quintet's first proper LP, "The Noise Made By People" -- never reveals where exactly they're headed. Yet the album hints in the direction of the fabled lost city that was the '60s, where British birds on Vespa scooters buzzed past Italian cowboys lounging at sidewalk cafes. Broadcast are on a mission to loot that landscape of its sounds -- spaghetti Western guitars, Phil Spector physics, sci-fi dread -- and scramble them into an almost oracular transmission for the future.

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At first listen, Broadcast may not seem much different from Portishead, Plone, St. Etienne or Stereolab -- any band that writes traditional songs with electronic instruments. Or they may also bring to mind groups that raid the musical thrift store for inspiration. But Broadcast don't look back to escape invention. Somewhere between Keenan's incantations and the group's deft meshing of synthesized sounds and live instrumentation the comparisons become irrelevant.

On "Noise," the group exchanges the charming Casio fugues collected on their 1997 singles compilation "Work and Non Work" for symphonic film-score grandeur. Keyboardist Roj Stevens, bolstered by bassist James Cargill, guitarist Tim Felton and alternating drummers Keith York and Steve Perkins, uses his instruments to conjure tolling bells, muffled French horns, booming bass drums, ailing theremins and tangled wind chimes. "Until Then" proceeds with the minor-key lilt of an Elizabethan air -- and then it's knifed by an acid guitar lick. "Dead the Long Year" is chamber music as played on hissing and clanging pipes. And the swinging, spaced-out pop tunes, such as "Papercuts" and "City in Progress," beg for the parenthetical subtitle "Theme From a Julie Christie Vehicle."

Broadcast manipulate their equipment to give the music the rangy pulse of jazz. It's electronic, but not shot full of skittering beats. The extra charge comes from the girl out front. Keenan writes in sighs and fables, singing lyrics like, "Be like the sun/Never gone," "Oh, the wind will come" and "None of us know who we are/Since finding a mirror in words some of us have lost heart."

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Even when Keenan's sentiments turn confessional, as they do in the stellar "Papercuts," they come off as allegorical. "You can't pretend 'cause I can see/You're not the boy you used to be," she begins, innocently enough. But when she comes to the line, "You said you wrote a page about me/In your diary," her delivery insinuates that she's not some ingenue -- more like a chilly siren taking cues from Petula Clark and Emily Brontk. And if you follow her voice where it beckons, she seems to hint, you won't be lured into afterparties, you'll be left stranded on some imaginary moors, bewitched right out of the '60s, right out of time.


Carlene Bauer

Carlene Bauer is an editor at Elle magazine.

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