Public Service Broadcasting are everything I love about music, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. They love their art form, and are willing to sweat over it to make it perfect, and that’s alright by me.
They’ve gradually built a positive reputation over the last year, with 6Music championing them, albeit indirectly. Rather than feature them on the A list - at least in the beginning - they were left to slog it out with the other nearly-rans in the rebel playlist feature. Steve Lamaqc serves up three tracks, listeners vote for their favourite, the winner gets much needed airplay. Twice, PSB won it; first with ‘ROYGBIV’, then with ‘Spitfire’. Since then, they’ve had a well-deserved season ticket to our radios.
And it is well-deserved, because PSB do something that most now don’t; they sculpt their art, shaping it into something perfect with an almost obsessive attention to detail. They take spoken audio from public information broadcasts, old films, and ancient, long-forgotten radio shows and make it beautiful. They complement the crackly recordings of 70 year old audio with crisp, precise music, leading to music that oozes love. They didn’t make this album for their audience; they made it for themselves, to pay homage to those disembodied voices of old.
PSB are Lemon Jelly for now, via the dawn of radio and television. They’re Avalanches, with emphasis on musicianship rather than cleverness. Their raison d’etre is to champion the golden age of broadcasting, the early days of the BBC when Lord Reith was still running the show, when broadcasters were respected, and presented themselves in the studio in a suit and tie. The BBC had a duty to educate, entertain and inform, and with that came responsibility.
‘Lit Up’ features the breathless description of the royal fleet by Thomas Woodrooffe, broadcasting for the BBC in 1937. Under the influence of too much navy rum, he declares the fleet to be “lit up by fairy lamps”. His beautiful, enthusiastic, drunken commentary is backed by plaintive guitar that, through the course of its 5 minutes builds to something equally beautiful. It evokes those fairy lights, shimmering in the night sky, agreeing with the excitable Woodrooffe. It is wonderful, and deserves to be heard by all.
‘Spitfire’ uses dialogue by David Niven from the film First Of The Few to put us in the sky alongside the legendary fighter plane of the same name. We fly at speed through the clouds, swooshing and diving, the characteristics of the plane described with perfect hyperbole. The music pulls back, we’re cruising above the clouds in peace. Enemy planes appear, the music swells, we’re in battle. We’re in a Spitfire, we’re safe.
Current single ‘Signal 30’ takes audio from the 1959 American public information film of the same name. Now we’re in a car, driving recklessly at tremendous speed, concerned announcers telling us what we’re doing wrong. This song rocks like an utter bastard, and is probably my high point of the record. It’s difficult to judge though, because the whole album is so lovingly crafted that you couldn’t actively dislike any of it.
Some of the tracks are more low-key than others, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy. Those tracks are designed to take you somewhere beautiful, somewhere more relaxed inside your head. They are a rest for your brain, a chance to catch up with yourself.
There’s the aforementioned ‘ROYGBIV’, which is truly wondrous. This is the track that most puts the listener in mind of Lemon Jelly or Avalanches. It takes you to the beginning of colour TV, and the hyperbole that went with it. Somehow, even without being blessed with synesthesia, the delicate layering of the track makes you hear the colour spectrum. The drums are violet, the banjo green. Orange guitars layered over yellow cowbell. The whole thing carrying you towards the sun in a riot of colour.
I feel uncomfortable writing reviews like this. Perhaps I should offer more disconnect, more balance. But to do so would betray this album. It would be unfair, unnecessary sniping for the sake of it. Inform - Educate - Entertain was painstakingly crafted by people who love what they do. It’s entirely uncynical, so to criticise it wouldn’t be fair.
I could go on about this album, but I shan’t. I’ll leave it for you to listen to, to discover the many hidden gems. My breathless hyperbole couldn’t do it justice anyway. In a year that has brought us new Frank Turner and David Bowie, and promises new Daft Punk and 65daysofstatic, Public Service Broadcasting should be rightfully proud that they will feature in many bloggers top 10s come December.