Watch any live performance from Public Service Broadcasting and you'll find yourself entranced. So many bands nowadays combine electronic and acoustic sounds, but PSB have somehow managed to carve out a niche in the saturated space. Melding live drums, banjo, electric guitar, archive vocal samples and electronic soundscapes, J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth produce thematic music that tells intensely evocative stories. Their latest sonic narrative, The Race For Space, thoughtfully chronicles our country's competition with Russia for claim to the final frontier.
The eponymous first track places clips from John F. Kennedy's famous Rice University space speech atop two minutes and forty two seconds of sparse and radiant choral swells, and that's it. These guys are clearly willing to sacrifice pop appeal for the clarity of their message, and for the intelligent listener this will prove refreshing. The optimistic nationalism of the title track is halted abruptly in the next two tracks, "Sputnik" and "Gagarin." The former uses an ominous, atmospheric electro beat to underscore the introduction of Sputnik, the first man-made object sent into space, created by the Russians. Lonely guitar chords and mournful synth convey a sense of disappointment akin to what the U.S. must have felt upon being beaten to the cosmos. "Gagarin" cranks up the energy with a fat breakbeat supporting swelling horns and funk guitar. However, this is yet another ode to America falling behind in the race; Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, and a Russian. The energy of the track seems to insinuate the rising urgency for our nation to secure a cosmic presence. Listeners are ushered through bitter failures and close calls, culminating in the wonder and excitement of the final song, "Tomorrow." Triumphant vibraphone and epic vocal chants carry sound bytes from America's arrival on the moon. The ecstatic and flustered tone of the astronaut's voice exclaiming that the conquest was successful will give you chills.
The songs are long (averaging at about four minutes and reaching seven,) and require more attention than a lot of the other stuff out there, but therein lies the magic of this album. If you listen through all nine tracks, you'll feel like you've just taken a wildly emotional journey to the emptiness of space and back, sans souvenir lyrics to sing in the shower. For the full effect, read the title of a song, do a quick Google search if you don't know what it means, then close your eyes and listen intently. In the vein of the U.S.'s fearless pursuit of space, Public Service Broadcasting has attempted to enter an uncharted realm of music. They've achieved something that's somewhere in between a small step and a giant leap, and that's undoubtedly worth a listen.