Public Service Broadcasting's MO, taking spoken-word samples from archive footage and setting them to music, has been done before (Lemon Jelly are their most obvious contemporaries) but rarely as well as on their 2013 debut, 'Inform Educate Entertain'. It gained them fans, plaudits and even award nominations, but it also raised the question of where they could go from there.
The answer is out of this world, as second album 'The Race For Space' focuses on the period between 1957 and 1972 when the Americans and Russians fought against one another to push the boundaries of extra-terrestrial exploration. To begin with, PSB struggle to marry their chosen sound clips with the instrumentation. The story behind 'Sputnik' is nothing short of fascinating, yet the musical accompaniment does nothing to augment it. Conversely, the brass band and string quintet behind 'Gagarin' make it bombastically brilliant, yet the insertion of BFI audio actually detracts from the song.
However, as time goes on, Public Service Broadcasting begin to find their feet, particularly on album highlight, 'The Other Side'. This account of the oft-overlooked Apollo 8 spaceflight, featuring the first astronauts to see the far side of the moon, is perfectly pitched against the cinematic music, meaning that there's a real feeling of tension as to whether the mission will be successful. The following track, 'Valentina', is gorgeously ethereal and captures a wonderful sense of peaceful otherworldliness, helped in no small part by vocals from Smoke Fairies.
'The Race For Space' has its mis-steps, but most importantly it shows that Public Service Broadcasting aren't a one-off novelty act, and that there's mileage in their approach. Perhaps next time they can come up with something even more stellar.
Words: Joe Rivers
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