(SONGS FROM UNDER MY BED – Lost Classics Rediscovered)
#3 – “The Noise Made By People” : BROADCAST (2000)
“The Noise Made By People” was Birmingham-based Broadcast's debut, released in 2000 on the excellent indie/electronica label Warp. It didn’t even scratch the charts (there’s still relatively little about them on the internet, even now), but it did well enough critically to cement them a place in the cool fringes of Noughties alternative. I think I heard the beautiful “Papercuts” on John Peel about a year or so later, and it captivated me enough to track down the mother album – and it has stayed with me ever since, a true Lost Classic.
I was trying to think of a way of describing the whole atmosphere of the album – and absolutely truthfully I swear to God had grasped the term “Retro-Futurist” out of the air before moments later seeing the same phrase used on their Wikipedia entry! You kinda know what I (and Wikipedia!) mean by that I'm sure. It’s that envisioning from the viewpoint of the past as to what the future would be / could be / will be like. Stereolab were another excellent band who pulled off a similar sound, though never as catchily – and again the comparison is on the Wikipedia entry, I notice after making it myself! Perhaps I should read the whole Wikipedia entry before writing any more…
Well… apparently Broadcast often use “amorphous samples” and um, “analogue dissonance” to create their “retro-futuristic sci-fi edge”. Hmm. I don’t know much about analogue dissonance, but I know what I like.
Let me try and do it in my own words, then. The crystal clarity of the vocals. That melancholic air, gazing out at both yesterday and tomorrow with equally sad and tired eyes. You can tell they listened to a lot of French Pop and movie soundtracks while they were recording it. I’m sure there’s some kind of musicology behind the chord progressions that explains how the album sounds… Though I don’t know for sure, I’ll bet a lot of them are minors.
There’s 12 tracks: opener “Long Was The Year” sets out the stall with a cold vocal from singer Trish Keenan - Broadcast’s secret weapon - laid over chiming piano and a mildly industrial set of clanks and whooshes. “Unchanging Window” is warmer – but still chilly, the Gallic influence is clearly present. “Minus One” is a bleakly regimented instrumental which feels unsettling somehow.
Then, perversely, the poppiest moment of the album arrives, with second single “Come On Let’s Go” which sounds a bit like Saint Etienne swirling down Carnaby Street in The Sixties of an alternative universe where sexy lady robots rule the world from a pod above Swingin’ London. The other single, “Echo’s Answer” lays Keenan’s deadpan vocals over an atmospheric mass of droning whirrs and glitchy strings and would surely never even be considered single-worthy by a less adventurous band. “Tower Of Our Tuning” is another instrumental, but more optimistic – deep-set percussive echoes with relentless slightly discordant music hidden way down somewhere else in the mix.
I often think a lot of great albums have a ‘centre’ though, and “The Noise Made By People”’s is just inside the second half. “Papercuts”, the song that drew me in originally is still superb – a bleeping off-kilter Sixties pop song which swoops and soars. And “You Can Fall”, which turned up on the brilliant ‘Morvern Callar’ soundtrack album (famously better than the intriguingly awkward film!) and re-invigorated my love for these songs a couple of years later on is defiantly defeatist – the vocals chiming with robotic effects, the music played by slowly dying machines. Man, I dig it.
After that, “Look Outside” is almost a change of mood into laidback retro lounge music, Keenan’s vocals approaching cheerful for a change… though further listens reveal a host of clicks and clacks under the powerful drums which hint at something more sinister. “Until Then” moves at a weary pace, backed by queasy whistles and broken electrics. “City In Progress” is akin to early 70s electro-prog like the ace Curved Air, and final track “Dead The Long Year” is a circling trip-hop groove topped with some kind of feedback and scratchy electric guitar which abruptly caves in to form a sinister ambient pulse.
I think ultimately what I love about this album is the pitch-perfect marriage between the glitch-tronica dabbled in by many of Broadcast’s label-mates on Warp (Squarepusher, Aphex Twin etc) and the ice-cool Sixties Pop vibe of much of the vocals and lyrics. There’s very few things I’ve ever heard like this. And at the end of the day, that’s what you want, innit. Groovy.
Official website, intermittently updated
The video to Come On Let’s Go
The video to the fantastic Papercuts