Right from their first EP, released on Wurlitzer Jukebox
in 1997, Birmingham’s Broadcast have develop a
particular blend of experimental pop heavily influenced
by sixties and seventies psychedelia and avant-garde
pop tainted of modern electronic tones, originally setting
them in the shadow of Stereolab.
Yet, if the two bands share a similar vision and common
influences, ranging from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
and bands such as The United States Of America or White
Noise to library music, Broadcast have benefited from
the start of a far more acute sense of pop music, allowing
them to experiment while remaining accessible.
Now a duo following the departure of guitarist Tim Felton,
Broadcast have swapped the rich textures and multiple
layers of previous records for a much rawer and grittier
sound, based on dry electronics, bass, processed guitars
and singer Trish Keenan’s deadpan voice. Stripped
down to its bare essentials, the music shows Broadcast
under new lights, bringing Keenan’s bittersweet
and often surrealist lyrics right at the forefront.
Recorded entirely at Keenan and Cargill’s home
in Birmingham and produced by the band, Tender Buttons
is a far more intimate record than its predecessor.
The recent single, America’s Boy, hinted
at more minimalist soundscapes, and this is confirmed
on the album. Yet, this serves Broadcast rather well.
On songs such as the superb Black Cat, America’s
Boy, Goodbye Girls or the annoyingly catchy
Michael A Grammar, Keenan and Cargill work
around frail distorted electronics and interferences
on which they add guitars, bass and linear drum beats.
Elsewhere, on the more subdued Tears In The Typing
Pool or You And Me In Time, they craft
delicate backdrops out of guitars and subtle sine waves,
evoking in places a space-age Velvet Underground.
If Tender Buttons reveals a more purely electronic
approach, Broadcast are miles apart from the electro
glam of Goldfrapp.
Their soundscapes have more in common with that of the
Radiophonic Workshop than that of Giorgio Moroder. Reduced
to a duo, Broadcast experiment with new forms and find
a totally new creative freedom. Gone are the ultra sophisticated
drum patterns and arrangements, replaced by drum machines
and raw sounds, but the pair appear as much at ease
here as they did before. Remain the finely detailed
melodies and Keenan’s refined lyrics. Broadcast
have grown up, got rid of the excess luggage and focused
on the essential elements in their music to produce
a consistent, confident and mature record.
Broadcast are a truly underrated band, and Tender
Buttons is unlikely to get them attention from
the masses, but this is hardly what they are after.
Their music requires for the listener to get involved
and look out for the crucial details in every song,
and that is what makes their records as fascinating
as each other. Tender Buttons might be less
accessible than its predecessors, in appearance at least,
yet it is also Broadcast’s more human and accomplished
record to date.