Sunday, 2 May 2010

Broadcast - 'Tender Buttons' (Warp)

It's funny how much I've come to love Broadcast over the years - a love that has crept up on me, like a subtle itch that can never be scratched. I don't play their records to death - I could, I suppose, but then maybe I wouldn't enjoy them as much. I remember when they first came out with Work and Non-Work in the late 90s, and they seemed like little more than a Stereolab clone. They've certainly emerged as their own voice, one which I would say I like even more than Stereolab -- though when listening to 'America's Boy', track 4 on Tender Buttons, I can't help but think of some similarities that remain. Both bands are synth-driven British groups that cross over into "rock" and "electronica" camps quite easily -- and this tune makes the same political gestures that the 'Lab's best empty Marxist anthems does. And another similarity is that I can tune out the lyrical meaning of both vocalists, letting the words wash over like abstract elements in a beautiful sound soup. But the similarities have to end by now, 2005, where this is technically Broadcast's last proper album (with Future Crayon being a Pisces Iscariot, and the sloppy collaboration with the Focus Group feeling like a tossed-off yet competent document of a band at a crossroads). Cause, where can you go after Tender Buttons? It's satisfying on every level; the arrangements stick to a core of guitars, keyboards, singing, drums -- but the accents are rich and plentiful. Flanged out studio effects, melting white noise, field recordings aflame -- yet it never feels dense or overwhelming. This is the kind of band that is capable of perfectly balancing things: retrofuturist sound sources with contemporary songwriting; electronic distance with organic atmosphere. I mean, look at the cover art - even that balances handmade casualness with a digital aesthetic. This CD features some insanely catch pop songs, like 'Black Cat' and 'Corporeal', that couldhaveshouldhave been radio hits; plus, a few jams, er, I mean, exemplary displays of musicianship, to show you what comes first ('Bit 35' which reminds me of the one instrumental on every Fugazi record focused through a Neu! reduction). There's fourteen songs and not a drop of filler, but nothing goes on for too long. Calculated for maximum impact, and can you tell I really love this album? I don't want to dissect the songwriting or arrangements too much, for fear of ruining the mystery, but this band has a few musical tricks that I really identify with them. The first is the use of slowly ascending melodies - 'Arc of a Journey's unfolds like a blossoming keyboard flower that is both dizzying and calm. They also have this walking bassline kinda thing which isn't anything unique but it makes a song feel like a Broadcast song. I think one thing that makes some pop music Great is when it can be enjoyed on a fun level of pure pop, but there's lots to sink into beneath the surface, for those who care. Tender Buttons wins on both levels.

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