BROADCAST: THE NOISE MADE BY PEOPLE (2000)
1) Long Was The Year; 2) Unchanging Window; 3) Minus One; 4) Come On Let's Go; 5) Echo's Answer; 6) Tower Of Our Tuning; 7) Papercuts; 8) You Can Fall; 9) Look Outside; 10) Until Then; 11) City In Progress; 12) Dead The Long Year.
«Barrel-organ-pop» is not an actual term, but the more we see that old-time dream-pop fused with electronics, the more pressing the need for such a term becomes. Stereolab may be named as their immediate predecessors and mentors, and Beach House and many other bands may be striving for similar emotional effects, but, really, there are few bands around that deserve to illustrate that category better than Birmingham's Broadcast, who spent the first five years of their lives devising and honing that sound, and then rolled out this debut album which, arguably, they never surpassed — not in terms of psychological impact, at least.
The Noise Made By People is a good title, but a bit self-deprecating: while a certain amount of «ornamental noise» is indeed present throughout, all the compositions respect melody and are completely «accessible», provided you are not in the specific mood for a dance album or something (or, at least, not a fast, energetic dance album — slow, cool-tempered waltzing would be quite appropriate for much of this stuff). The «noise» itself usually comes in the form of various kaleidoscopic effects which rarely detract from the repetitive, but entrancing melodies — on the contrary, considering how Christmas-y the general atmosphere is, they just add tinsel flavor.
Most of the ingredients of the music are recognizable, but the overall synthesis is quite idiosyncratic. The idea of creating lightly psychedelic pop with (slightly antiquated) electronics may have been borrowed from The United States of America, as is sometimes noted, and then there are further analogies with just about every technology-obsessed dream-pop band from the Cocteau Twins to Stereolab. On the other hand, lead singer Trish Keenan belongs to the cohort of chilly-voiced femmes mysterieuses, half-Snow Queen, half-Snow White, as Renaissance's Annie Haslam (to whom she bears a particularly striking resemblance every time she reaches for those high notes) or even Karen Carpenter (she doesn't have Karen's lower range, so the vocals sound more generally «air-conditioned», but she has the same introspective / melancholy ring) — and she also seems to have a serious taste for Sixties' vocal jazz fairies like Astrud Gilberto, going for that «deeply human, but utterly impenetrable» aura that used to mesmerize people back when it was so trendy to want to be mesmerized by the little strange wonders of the world.
You put it all together — the simple, repetitive melodies, usually formed by drums-and-bass patterns with prolonged, trance-oriented keyboard notes laid on top; the additional electronic and, sometimes, electric guitar effects; and those gorgeously cold «don't touch me, I'm spell-generating here!» vocals — and you get yourself one of the finest atmospheric landscapes of the 2000s. In particular, it is a near-perfect experience for lonely wintery evenings, what with its bringing out all the potential beauty of «cold» and «dark» without slipping into banalities and trivialities and without concentrating on the negative sides of it all. You hate the cold season? Let Broadcast warm it up for you. Never mind that the album was released at the end of March — it's a Decemberist record if there ever was one.
If there is a problem, it's that everything basically sounds the same. ʽLong Was The Yearʼ opens the album on a «sterner» mood, with some stiff, quasi-Teutonic rhythmics and a darker, heavier vocal color from Trish. ʽUnchanging Windowʼ follows it up with a slightly more upbeat tempo, chirpier vocals and a more playful attitude (all strictly within the limits of good old British decency, mind you). Once you are acquainted with these two sub-paradigms, everything else is mostly just further variations on them — including several completely instrumental tunes (the little «toy snowstorm» of ʽMinus Oneʼ is playful, while ʽTower Of Our Tuningʼ and ʽDead The Long Yearʼ are decidedly darker in spirit, though still nowhere near «dangerously dark»).
This, as well as the overtly «static» nature of most of the songs, which almost always end exactly the same way as they began, is an obviously self-imposed limitation — it carves out a stylistic niche for the band, but it also traps them in that niche (a feeling not wholly unfamiliar to connaisseurs of the indie market), and a side effect of that trapping is that I cannot discuss the individual songs, unless I really want to get into the peculiarities of all the chimes, bells, and whistles activated in the recording process, or overanalyze the «moods-within-the-moods» reflected in Keenan's singing here and there. All I can say is that the melodies are different, and that there is plenty of tiny little nuances that come and go. Well, maybe some of the tunes are a bit jazzier than others — ʽCome On Let's Goʼ, or the waltzing ʽPapercutsʼ, for instance, both of which show that the generally immobile «friendly Snow Queen» can condescend to wiggling it up a bit, just to prove that she does consist of organic compounds. And then again, some are a bit more frozen than others — ʽUntil Thenʼ, for instance, where all the electronics sounds as if they were freshly blown out of a stalagmite or something.
On the positive side, the evenness of the material means that all the songs are about equally good, no particular low- or highlights — although some of the instrumentals are guilty of patience-trying, but even here it is understandable: «static musical landscapes» are supposed to be like that (for instance, the «who's gonna go and finally close that squeaky door?» bit at the end of ʽDead The Long Yearʼ). The ambitions of The Noise Made By People are lightweight and limited, but within those limits, they are perfectly adequate, and that guarantees a convinced thumbs up — for an album that is not so much «awesome» as it is «touchingly charming», and you know there are actually certain times in life when «touchingly charming» is needed more than «awesome».
Check "The Noise Made By People" (MP3) on Amazon