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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Broadcast: HaHa Sound


1) Colour Me In; 2) Pendulum; 3) Before We Begin; 4) Valerie; 5) Man Is Not A Bird; 6) Minim; 7) Lunch Hour Pops; 8) Black Umbrellas; 9) Ominous Cloud; 10) Distorsion; 11) Oh How I Miss You; 12) The Little Bell; 13) Win­ter Now; 14) Hawk.

This follow-up to The Noise Made By People is even more full of helium than its predecessor. The major difference is that the snow has melted away, and this, now, is spring come to replace winter, although everything still stays firmly within the confines of the same old magical barrel organ (and winter does come back at the end of the album, at least nominally). Contrary to the title, there are no actual «ha ha's» anywhere in sight — Broadcast do not have a sense of humor, at least, not an «earthly» one — but if the idea is simply to conjure an as­sociation with something lightweight and childishly innocent, that's okay.

The very first song, actually, is a kiddie song — a tune that could, with just a little bit of tweaking, easily fit on Sesame Street or the like: "I am grey, still on the page / Oh colour me in / Just an outline, sketchy but fine / Oh colour me in". The psychedelic electronic waltz that unfurls in the background complements the song's basic idea just fine — in fact, the song almost ends up intru­ding into «corny» territory, as Trish Keenan now metamorphoses into a Dusty Springfield for her generation. However, the complex overdubs still contain plenty of dissonance to satisfy both the introvert intellectual child and the grown-up indie hipster kid (not that there's a huge amount of difference between the two).

ʽPendulumʼ was already previously released on a short EP of the same name, which makes it the odd one out on the record — driven by a loud, bashing drum pattern instead of the usually soft percussion, and a rather cold synthesizer rhythm track that suggests a bit of dark mystique. But it is the album's equivalent of an ʽAmazing Journeyʼ — guiding the listener through a somewhat uncomfortable interdimensional corridor so that he or she may then revel freely in the multi­coloured pastures and forests of the remaining twelve tracks.

And this is where the problem lies: paradise, even one of a cool intellectual design, is actually a boring place to be. The Noise Made By People was fairly monotonous already, but not to this extent: now that Keenan has sacrificed most of the variety in her singing for a single-purpose «ethereal» delivery (hushy, echoey, mid-range, little to no modulation at all), listening to this stuff is like wandering through an endless art gallery of XVIIth century Italian painters — every­thing done in bright, professional, masterful, spiritual ways, but everything completely interchan­geable, dissuading you to focus on anything in particular.

However, on second thought, this is not really a «problem» as such. This fairy-tale world that Broadcast have constructed is effective and believable, even though it is so intentionally «fluffy» and «sugary», with only that slight melancholic ring in Keenan's voice to suggest that there may be a darker undercurrent to their «Land of Long-Lasting La-La». So if we have no individual me­mories of what it was that made ʽMan Is Not A Birdʼ fundamentally different from ʽOminous Cloudʼ, why should it matter? (I think the latter was in 3/4 tempo while the former was in 4/4, but that's about it, and anyway I might be wrong...).

This is mood music, to be played on a warm spring night or, perhaps, to set the mood of a warm spring night on a cold winter night. Or under a different set of circumstances, whatever. The textures are very pretty. A more serious analysis also reveals that, «under the covers», the band is conducting some experimental research — many of the tracks, while starting out quite conven­tionally, eventually resolve themselves as sonic explorations (for instance, the bizarre electronic drum solo at the end of ʽMan Is Not A Birdʼ, or the trance-inducing repetitive acoustic guitar pat­tern of ʽValerieʼ, eventually fusing with all the electronics in a thin wall of noise).

I do want to raise one complaint — there is a bit too much waltzing going on here. Dancing out with the moonlit knight, or with candlewick fairies, or with The Phantom of The Analog Synth is all fine and dandy, but why it so necessarily has to be done in the spirit of Johann Strauss Jr., is not as easy to understand. A minuet, anybody? An old reel? A tango? If they were waltzing all day long and into the night in my paradise, I'd lead a counter-cultural revolution.

Thumbs up, overall, but in terms of general trajectory, this is a slight letdown after the debut — too much attention on texture, not enough attention on composing, what with all the generic tem­pos and vocal melodies that, much too often, are reminiscent of conventional lullabies or nursery rhymes. But they most probably were not going for anything other than a specific atmosphere here, and they got that atmosphere all right.

Check "HaHa Sound" (CD) on Amazon
Check "HaHa Sound" (MP3) on Amazon

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