Thursday, 26 November 2009

"The Noise Made By People": Broadcast

(SONGS FROM UNDER MY BED – Lost Classics Rediscovered)
by MMT.

#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…

(does so)

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

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Project Wolverine / Felix ALBUMS

I’m extremely biased, of course, but I think it’s been an absolutely magnificent year for music in Milton Keynes. The always-healthy Rock n’ Metal scene has provided the sturdy bassline as ever, but there’s plenty of other stuff going on right now too – the rise of the Craufurd Arms as a national venue; a Hip-Hop presence that we’re definitely vaguely aware of; certainly the extremely wide variety of ace bands we came across through the MonKeyVision Song Contest – and also the rise of what I’m going to call the New Acoustic Generation, curated by the brilliant open mics in Newport, Wolverton and now in CMK!

So what better way to tip the salute to this superlative year than by reviewing hot new albums by two of our very favourite MK-related acts? – namely rising local singer-songwriter Project Wolverine and rising national stars Felix (one half of whom hails from these parts originally and featured in the classic MK band The Holistic Cleansing Quintet who we saw at The Pitz on more than one occasion back in’t day!). Grand!

First up Project Wolverine, who we were lucky enough to have play a set for us at the most recent Vodka Boy @ The Enigma Tavern gig in September. His new full-length demo album “Life, Love, Loss & Politics” can be picked up for £3 – contact him through his MySpace if you’re interested.

He describes himself on his MySpace as “Bargin Bucket Billy Bragg”, and you can definitely hear that influence, as well as regular touches of a thrashy acoustic Jamie T bounce – his accent is present throughout, though that’s not to say he can’t sing too, cos he can. Bragg’s present too in his subject matter - you certainly don’t hear many young singers penning attacks on the Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s press empire in 2009. But considering his tender years this kind of lyrical and thematic maturity is impressive.

The production is clear and sounds “live” (you can even just about hear some other band playing way down in the mix and a long way in the distance on one or two songs!) – as befits songs which are mostly one voice one guitar, or one voice one piano. There’s an ear-catching guest vocal appearance from Philippa Moyle on “Same Old Game”, her soaring theatrics counter-pointing PW’s gruffer edge to great effect.

For me though, it’s the lyrics that do it. Like a younger Brit-cousin of the fantastic Bright Eyes, you get the sense of a real person behind the songs, that they’re acoustical snapshots of a real life being lived – the rueful “Tame”, the ramshackle busk of “Chance Encounter”, and Official Dudebox Track Of The SummerCold Baked Beans” the best examples of this (“It’s £3.20 to get into town… you get there and realise no-one’s around…”). And how could I not love the mournful piano track “Murder Ballad” which seems to literally be a song based on one of my favourite albums of all time?

There’s even a hint at future directions - a possible wider sound - on “Critical Stage” when an electric guitar gives a fittingly emotional backdrop to the dark urgency of the protest song underneath. And the album closes with stand-out track “The Mis-Informed”, which is genuinely touching – gentle but with a steely resolve.

So – a new voice definitely worth listening to. Plus, eleven tracks for just three quid? Where’s the catch? Get involved. And watch out for him on the local circuit too…

Meanwhile in the wider world the debut album from the wonderful Felix is finally out – and on a record label based in Chicago no less! Local girl done extremely good Lucinda should be incredibly proud of herself: “You Are The One I Pick” is not only the best thing I’ve ever heard from a musician outta MK, it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard this year by anyone. So I’ll try and review it without being too gushing. Hopefully.

To be entirely honest, it is musically right up my alley anyway – laid-back intimately recorded girl vox, dramatic yet minimalist orchestration (w/ plenty of cellos and crystalline pianos), and topped off with a light sprinkling of thump-drummy drone-rock. Yes please! And all the tracks kind of flow into each other cinematically, and it swims in effortless cool. At times it even aches with some sort of calm, sad acceptance. Simply beautiful.

It’s almost tricky to pick out favourite tracks, the whole album has a very evocative sound as a whole. But “What I Learned From TV” feels just a wee bit more intimate, more wistful – and is then followed up with Dudebox Track Of The WinterBack In Style” with its shuffling beats and oblique Twin Peaks references. So that’s definitely a high point in this already lofty plateau.

And the intertwining of Lucinda’s vocal tracks on “Bernard St” is just lovely – the closest Felix come to some kind of mainstream sound maybe, though it’d never sit quite right there. It’s too sinister somehow. Well, not quite sinister p'raps, but something to do with the weirdness of the mundane… what’s really going on behind those nice curtains in that house down your street. And that’s brilliant. It’s not easy to create this effect well, but Felix have absolutely nailed it.

Repeated listens to the album bring the lyrics out from the mix more and more, and with them this uneasy sense of the oddness of normality hangs over proceedings. The bleak side of childhood naivety. So “Ode To The Marlboro Man” becomes a nursery rhyme sung in a round about running away with a cowboy. “I Wish I Was A Pony” becomes far darker than the gently sad little song it at first appeared. And I’m still not sure after five listens, but I think in final track “Song About Zoo” they might even kill their children and escape together from their drab lives. Outstanding.

So. Proof of just what can be achieved from this humble platform, this brilliant city. Let’s see what all you other bands have got. This is the bar, up here. You can do it. Here comes 2010.