Microtronics Volumes 1 & 2
Maida Vale Sessions
Mother Is the Milky Way
Taken as an oblong, abstract, astro-pop whole, these three all-rarities packages from Birmingham sonic-collage artists Broadcast come across like a chapter of Todd Haynes’ Velvet Underground documentary—an Op to Pop cinematic experience where image and sound don’t exactly meet eye-to-eye, yet never seem far from conventionality’s contemporary design.
Broadcast hold a mysterious place in British ’90s music’s continuum if for no other reason than their being able to suck all the air out of a room with every listen (that’s a compliment). Like Stereolab with a migraine and a feel for Franco-pop (they even signed to Stereolab's Duophonic Super 45s imprint for a time), the duo had a sore and woozy psychedelic edge to their haunted, gauzy, guitar-and-piano-strewn, live-band, electro-induced vibe, an insistently undulating feel mostly born of deadpan vocalist-songwriter Trish Keenan and her Alan Vega–like need for heavy reverb and a mix of cheer and nihilism in her lyrics.
Having lived around the corner from Maida Vale Studios where legendary UK radio host John Peel ruled the roost, I can attest to the nicotine-stained tone that seeps through the raw-yet-ornate Maida Vale Sessions. Every piano’s hammer and guitar’s scrawl rub against Keenan the wrong way, and she takes to tracks such as “Where Youth and Laughter Go” and “The Book Lovers” with equal amounts of hurt, horror, and rugburn. That same tremulous terror spills through to the shimmering and sullen instrumental breakdowns of Microtronics, which, at its heart, is something like a stock library music affair if guitar maestro John Fahey were its curator and book keeper. With that, each of these Broadcast micro-instrumentals, whether acoustic or electronic, shimmy and vibrate in place, but never exactly stand still.
To that freak-folksy end, there’s 2009’s Mother Is the Milky Way. Stripped down to its co-founding duo of Keenan and bassist James Cargill, Broadcast toys with the distanced woodsy/spooky feel of Fairport Convention, and finds itself immersed in new forms of naked beauty and hypnotic melody on whispery tunes such as “I’m Just a Person in This Roomy Verse.” With Keenan having passed away, most of the Broadcast book is written with a few chapters left to read from what Cargill has stated in regard to refurbishing unused material. Here’s hoping there’s moments as dramatic as these three Broadcast outtakes located, lovingly, among the ruins.