For a band that’s generally avoided major scales in the past because, as singer Trish Keenan stated, they kept coming out too happy (“like Britpop”), Broadcast certainly does something beautiful and with great depth with the happiness on their latest album, hahasound. The album opens with the most Technicolor of waltzes, “Color Me In”, in which Trish Keenan sings with the unwavering optimism of Julie Andrews giving her children a stern lecture in cheerfulness in Mary Poppins: “I am gray but still on the page, color me in/ I’ll always wait, it’s never too late, to color me in.” And the rosy buoyancy lasts throughout hahasound.
While still largely in the same Sixties psychedelic vein as before (just more uppity and less Jazz noir), Broadcast has managed to keep doing something novel and marvelous with their sound. As with previous works, the instruments are still mostly keyboards: all kinds of altered organs, analog tones, shimmering pings, over-amplified bells, harps and clavichords. But they’re always treated with tremolo, with something digital breaking them apart, emitting something humming, purring, like you’re hearing the machinery inside a carousel whirring and spinning. All these sounds, most of them drowned out to more of a just-sensed background hue than anything distinct, form a cacophonous beauty as the songs rise up into their climaxes.
Although the rhythm section that stays far away from bangs and explosions, the bass and drums on hahasound are incredibly absorbing. Skipping and frolicking right next to the song (instead of boom-boom-boom driving it), the bass seems to take as much from old children’s dance songs as it does from Jazz, and far less from anything from Rock and Roll on up. And the drums (played by Neil Bullock on this album) go beautifully bonkers throughout. Recorded in a centuries-old church, there’s this gorgeous metallic ping to the drums, as if they’ve amplified the higher frequency twinkles of a drum thwack.
A more uncertain area is Broadcast’s subject matter, which skirts dangerously close to the pointlessly cute on much of hahasound. “The Little Bell”, for instance, ruminates on a broken watch that can’t tell time: “Deep inside my little clock/ There is a tick but not a tock”. But that’s the very softie-psychedelic sensibility they operate in: wispy, ephemeral, paisley. There’s a wonderful naïveté to Sixties music which, if you’ve never had a bent towards this period of art and culture, you might easily find much pretense in. On the other hand, if you do lean towards this aesthetic, you might find the lyrics in “The Little Bell” charming in a Disney-fied nursery rhyme way.
What’s different from their previous albums is a less prominent sense of form in hahasound. They’re still as conscious as ever of what they’re playing, but more focused on textures and comparatively straight-forward song structures. The songs on Work and Non Work and The Noise Made by People showed extraordinarily developed, sharply defined musical ideas, whereas the notes in hahasound are more likely to follow the vocals: still very apt, just less concentrated on larger form.
Otherwise, hahasound is just as strong as Broadcast’s other albums, just with different focuses. Their body of work so far is all beautiful in its singularity, its irreducible persona. It’s immensely reassuring to see such a significant group maintain their ability to put together tremendous music.