Sunday, 5 February 2012

Overlooked Albums: The Noise Made By People

Early in 2011, Broadcast vocalist Trish Keenan sadly passed away at the age of just 42. In the days that followed, websites and blogs ran articles about what a marvellous frontwoman Keenan was, and Twitter was awash with fans sharing their love of the group and their Trish memories. Consensus seemed to be that not only were Broadcast a fantastic and important band, but Keenan was a kind, unassuming woman, and many people were telling their tales of how friendly and personable she was.

This response to the news really shocked me. Not because I disagreed of course, and not due to the nature of the news itself, but because – rather shamefully – I’d never heard of Broadcast at this point. I’ve no idea how or why, but they’d just completely passed me by and now, I was learning that people whose tastes and opinions I listened to and respected regarded Broadcast as one of their favourite bands.

This being the age of the internet, a little research was exceptionally easy. On a web forum I frequent, several contributors had posted YouTube videos of their favourite Broadcast tracks. I was instantly hooked; this was music unlike any other I’d previously heard. This was the electronic experimentalism of Stereolab, but with wonderful pop tunes behind it. This was the past and the future at the same time. This was impossibly debonair and glamorous, yet weighted with just the right amount of detachment. I listened to Come On Let’s Go, I listened to Papercuts, and then immediately ordered Broadcast’s debut album, The Noise Made By People.

There’s something so utterly different about The Noise Made By People that being a fan of it feels like you’ve been let in on an amazing secret, or been allowed to join an exclusive club. That’s not to say it’s pretentious, difficult or avant-garde – it’s very much none of those things – but it exists in its own environment so out of step with mainstream culture, that it can’t help but transport you to another planet altogether.

The world in which The Noise Made By People immerses you is one that has cherry-picked certain aspects of the previous half-century of popular music, and used them to create something else entirely. It’s a very analogue sounding album; the electronic effects resonate warmly, and you can practically hear the valves opening and closing. However, rather than the genre-expanding experimentation or motorik beats of the Krautrock movement, Broadcast use this style as the backdrop for their exquisite pop songs. Trish Keenan’s vocals are pure and unadorned, and this creates a slight feeling of distance and insouciance. Thus, what could maybe pass in the background unremarkably is slightly left of centre and will knock on the door of your subconscious until you give it your full attention.

Musically, it’s well-crafted pop songs set to retro-futuristic electro, interspersed with instrumental tracks that sound more like cuts from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But when Broadcast go for the well-treaded verse-chorus-verse three minute track, they really excel. Long Was The Year has ominous tolling bells, Come On Let’s Go shows beautiful restraint and Papercuts is utterly compelling. In fact, the lyrics of Papercuts bubble with such intrigue that, matched with the French exoticism of the rhythms and instrumentation, it’s almost a four and a half minute film in itself.

Despite its wonderful, standout songs, The Noise Made By People remains an album that is best listened to as a whole. Then, the mood pieces join it together expertly, and the mood the music creates can fully permeate and consume you. It’s also exceptionally rare in that it’s one of those records you don’t want to play too often in order to not wear out its intoxicating effect. Truly though, The Noise Made By People remains one of the most fully-realised and rewarding debut albums of the last twenty years.

James Cargill, the only remaining member of Broadcast, spent 2011 largely away from public life. However, towards the end of the year, he gave an interview in which he confirmed that he’s currently at work on a new Broadcast record, using tapes of vocals left behind by Keenan. If the resulting album is even as half as good as The Noise Made By People, it will have been an exercise well worth completing.

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