Public Service Broadcasting
The Race For Space
Think that an album charting the history of the 1960s Cold War Space Race between the USA and the Soviet Union isn’t for you? Think again. London-based musical pioneers/diligent public service archivists Wrigglesworth and J. Willgoose Esq return in 2015 with an album that expertly splices snippets of archived radio propaganda footage with a multitude of musical styles from art rock and disco-punk through to krautrock and electronica. Veering away from the temptation to produce a bleak, sparse backdrop of minimalist post-rock to accompany these grainy, crackling outtakes from the Huston and Moscow space centres, Public Service Broadcasting will propel you on a sonic voyage through the annals of musical history.
Standout track Gagarin shows what the band can do at their most ambitious; fully replete with rich burst of horns atop intricate, layered guitars and pounding funk bass line, this is a fittingly uninhibited celebration in honour of the first man to enter space, as though the band themselves were throwing a riotous after party for the eponymous Russian hero. Their barely contained excitement translates surprisingly well through the formal broadcast proclaiming “the whole planet knew him and loved him… the hero who blazed the trail for the stars”.
The tempo remains high elsewhere. Go!, with its punchy, to-the-point title, imbues routine flight check announcements with a visceral urgency thanks to an up tempo bass riff and restless post-punk drum beat; an endearing nod to Joy Division. The slinky E.V.A. mixes a similar groove on guitar, bass and banjo, with gentle keyboard and synth contributions, topped by graceful cymbal splashes a la Phil Selway.
In the absence of vocal melodies the band rely heavily on the footage gleaned from many painstaking hours spent scouring through the archives of the British Film Institute. Thankfully they do so with a geeky attentiveness rivalled only by their unique ear for producing diverse and original instrumentation. The vintage techno of seven minute trance odyssey Sputnik ticks over with the quiet intensity of a Krautrock classic propelled by a Giorgio Moroder-inspired metronomic beat, with only eery bleeping and sparse synthesisers for company until the track builds to a suitably ostentatious climax.
The Other Side feels like a more scientific reimagining of the subject matter that inspired Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon; staccato synths and sparingly used guitars help chart the progress of Apollo 8 as it drifted out of contact in the moon’s orbit, a pregnant lull in middle of the song perfectly capturing Huston’s anxious wait to resume radio contact. Elsewhere, Valentina, honouring the first woman to go to space, fittingly has vocal contributions from female pop duo Smoke Fairies, whose echoey harmonies provide the album’s only dabbling with live vocal takes atop a dreamy post-rock soundscape.
From the generation-defining pronouncement of US President John F. Kennedy on his government’s plans to conquer the moon “because it is there”, as sampled on the hair-raising opening title track, through to emotionally ambivalent closer Tomorrow, which contains an optimism for future exploration rendered tragically hollow decades later, the LP provides a fascinating and enthralling insight into the wild optimism and dizzying anticipation which gripped the world in the burgeoning era of space travel.
Musically too the album feels like a lesson history, cruising across the sonic arcs of 20th century music, picking and choosing styles with deft aplomb to craft a compelling collection of music that somehow perfectly suits their extra-terrestrial subject matter. If anything, the album feels a little light at only nine tracks; this is definitely one history lesson you wouldn’t mind overrunning.
Words: Henry Wickham