Complete Guide: Broadcast

An exhaustive summation of a special project...

Broadcast formed in Birmingham, 1995, by James Cargill and the late Trish Keenan – voice and focal point of Broadcast – who’s untimely passing in 2011 resulted in the group’s subsequent split.

Broadcast had a distinctly retro but sophisticated take on electronic music, and were largely informed by 60’s experimental group The United States of America. They released three albums from 2000 – 2005, as well as two compilation albums, several EP’s and a soundtrack for Peter Strickland’s giallo inspired horror film Berberian Sound Studio.

In 2009, Broadcast collaborated with experimental electronic musician Julian House (The Focus Group), and released 'Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age', which took inspiration from library cues, sound collages and all-but-forgotten BBC radio plays of the 60’s and 70’s.

Cargill went on to form Children of Alice with The Focus Group’s Julian House, the name being a poignant reference to Trish Keenen’s favourite book, Alice in Wonderland.

With the recent release of Children of Alice’s self-titled debut, we take a look at six key songs from Broadcast’s career.

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'The Book Lovers' (1997)

‘The Book Lovers’ features on Broadcast’s debut, a compilation called 'Work And Non Work'. The LP comprises of a collection of the group’s early singles. The album exhibited a tendency to manifest the paranormal in a way that wasn’t stereotypically ‘dark’ or sinister, a quality that’s evident throughout all of their recordings, but particularly prominent on ‘The Book Lovers’. This album is generally more downbeat and sparse in comparison to the more dramatic arrangements that followed, and it defined Broadcast’s propensity to manifest the strange and paranormal through the use of old mediums.

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'Come On Let’s Go' (2000)

As influential as they were singular, ‘Come On Let’s Go’ is as accessible as Broadcast get – in an ideal world this would have been a number 1 hit single. The song reveals a more 60s pop sensibility that recalls the girl groups of yore, but still retains the ghostly familiarity of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

‘Come On Let’s Go’ has the endurance of any classic pop song, and manages to sound modern and unlike any other music at the time, while still very clearly indebted to music’s past.

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'Poem Of Dead Song' (2000)

Broadcast’s output around this time explored even more of electronic music’s underlying futurism with elements of film noir. Keenan’s icy and detached vocals had become a trademark, and her fondness of Alice in Wonderland regularly noted -Jonathan Miller’s surreal 1966 adaptation in particular – which partly explains her innate ability to explore psychedelic music from a uniquely female, anti-macho perspective.

Like much of their work, this track draws inspiration from the less formulaic aspects of psychedelic music, experimenting with early forms of the genre through the use of samples and eerie electronics, cultivated by a predilection for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

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Complete Guide: Broadcast

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'Winter Now' (2003)

Broadcast’s second album 'Haha Sound' employs a more fluid, leisurely approach. While the group’s debut retained a mysterious, detached quality, 'Haha Sound' contains a lot more warmth and texture, while also sounding more intimate and rougher than anything on The Noise Made By People. Broadcast hark back to a golden era of pop when the emphasis was on “the future”. They occupy a space between past and present, and elicit the distant, fuzzy recollections of childhood, alongside the juxtaposition of past memories with the realities of now.

‘Winter Now’ is the perfect example of this, and it captures Broadcast’s tendency to utilise nursery rhyme-like melodies with dreamy electronics. Trish’s vocals had also become increasingly expressive, as opposed to the faint refrains that typically hovered outside the songs.

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'Tears In The Typing Pool' (2005)

Broadcast’s third LP 'Tender Buttons' was generally more minimal than previous releases, marking a shift in the band’s overall sound.

Trish Keenan’s introspective melodies were a quality that defined Broadcast, and the group’s quieter moments really tug at the heart strings (see also ‘Echo’s Answer’ and ‘Until Then’). Unusually, ‘Tears In The Typing Pool’ is essentially Trish Keenan cooing over delicate, two-chord guitar lines, but her pure and precise vocal delivery carries the song in a way that’s both moving and strangely melancholy.

Even during the group’s most unembellished moments, though, there are tinges of their obscure influences at play: see the lingering flute samples, for example; it reeks of nostalgia.

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'Unchanging Window / Chord Simple' (2006)

'Unchanging Window / Chord Simple' was originally released on Broadcast’s 2000 'Extended Play Two' EP but featured on the 2006 compilation of rarities and B-sides 'The Future Crayon'. This track is essentially a reworking of The Noise Made By People’s beguiling opener ‘Unchanging Window’, blended with the gentler ‘Chord Simple’, the results being a dream-like, seven-minute epic that focuses on loud/quiet dynamics.

Dark and disorientating, this is a perfect example of Broadcast traversing archetypal ideas of electronic and psychedelic music, as well as traditional connotations of the paranormal.

Keenan pervades this record, from the esoteric influences that inform it, to the spectral effects that skulk and swell in the darkness. There’s also a real thrill as you keep expecting her voice to slide into focus, threatening to break into song.

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'Children Of Alice' is out now – purchase LINK.

Words: Hayley Scott // @hayleyscott89

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