Last updated: 12/03/2007 11:00:00 AM
The theory goes that this sort of document is meant to explain, to shine light in murky corners, to make things easier. But really, to go too deep would be to rip away the essence of the band. Broadcast are Trish Keenan (vocals), Roj Stevens (keyboards), James Cargill (bass), Tim Felton (guitar), Keith York and Steve Perkins (drums). 'The Noise Made By People' is their debut album proper, will be released in March 2000, and reveals its depths slowly and enigmatically. There are, as one song would have it, "foreboding phrases", distant bells and tremors like clouds and dust on the horizon. Approaching menace, new sounds closing in with every listen. An album with a precisely realised atmosphere that's all too easy to get lost in.
That atmosphere. The past refracted by the future, and the future imagined by the past, cryptically. More prosaically, Broadcast take aged and neglected ways of writing songs - torch ballads, tense noir jazz, the grand gestures of waltztime - and place them in a contemporary context. Theirs are classic songs with truly modernist settings, Trish's creepily ingenuous voice stranded amidst the feints an glitches of electronica, buffeted by wave after wave of crotchety, fuzzy samples and 'proper' instruments.
If the phrase hadn't been so devalued by so much fey, empty-headed music, you could call this album comedown music, though the experience could be a little discomforting. There are ghosts of old soundtrack composers moving through many of the songs: an elegant ripple of John Barry in 'Unchanging Window'; the ornate threat of Ennio Morricone in the banshee-riven madrigal 'Until Then'; the deep space isolationism of Louis & Bebe Barron's Forbidden Planet score in 'Minus 1'. And, though at least two of these are names that come up time and time again of late, Broadcast, unlike many lesser travellers, have managed to grasp their invention and edge. There's far more to this game than a fancy arrangement, for sure.
The closest correlative to 'The Noise Made By People', however, is the work of LA electronic pioneers The United States Of America. If Joseph Byrd had scored his quaint but dysfunctional psychedelia in 1999 rather than 1968, replacing proto-synths and a host of ring modulators with the most desirable specimens from 30 years of technology, he'd probably make music like this. That's the theory, anyway.
What else? Well, 'The Noise Made By People' is noise made by people who'd never be so pretentious as to try and contrive a mystique, but who inadvertently generate one all the same. Broadcast formed in Birmingham sometime in the mid '90s - part of a vague scene of kindred spirits that also incorporated Pram and labelmates Plone - and released their first seven-inch, 'Accidentals' on the fine, sadly defunct Wurlitzer Jukebox label early in 1996. At the time, as seven-inches from nominally experimental bands started cropping up with brilliant frequency, it appeared they were aligned to a nameless movement quietly reacting against the prevailing Britpop hegemony.
With hindsight, it's plain Broadcast had precious little in common with virtually any of their contemporaries - as evinced by two more singles, 'Living Room' and 'The Book Lovers' for the flawlessly tasteful Duophonic imprint. 'Work And Non Work' a mini-album and their first release on Warp, collects all these rare and lovely songs, one of those unusual compilations notable for its consistency, its sustained tone. A promise of great things, was the consensus.
Until, that is, the trail appeared to go dead. Sometime in 1997, Broadcast began the tortuous process of recording what would eventually become 'The Noise Made By People'. Various producers were summoned, dismissed, walked out. Progress stalled, the awful prospect of a band with such a firm vision unable to fully present it loomed large. Even Tom 'Squarepusher' Jenkinson, a man not known for exactly dwelling on his tunes, stopped by and tried to teach them how to loosen up.
Apparently, it worked. Broadcast set up their own studio at the Custard Factory in Birmingham, figured out how to use it, and started the job in earnest. 'Hammer Without A Master' - a glowering instrumental that sounded industrial, but nothing like industrial music - appeared on Warp 100, the exemplary 'We Are Reasonable People' compilation. Until the end of 1999 and the release of the stark, uneasy 'Echo's Answer', they seemed to play little more than once a year - at Meltdown in summer '98, amidst the cream of Warp's roster, then again at Belle & Sebastian's Bowlie Weekender in spring '99. Adopted by both extremes, fitting neatly into neither.
Now, finally, there's 'The Noise Made By People', an album that hints at a detached and dislocated worldview, that touches on communication breakdown and observing life from afar. Made by a band with a fathomless capacity to confuse, all insinuated dichotomies; both cool and vulnerable, disorienting and familiar, straightforward but terribly, terribly complicated. This is Broadcast, and this is what they do.