The Future Crayon
director's cut, Observer Music Monthly, August 13, 2006
by Simon Reynolds
There’s an invented word in Alfie that fits the music of Broadcast like a glove: “ghostified”. Remember the scene where Michael Caine's character complains about how Jane Asher's northern runaway turned live-in lover gets this faraway, 'ghostified' look, indicating she's thinking mournfully of the lover who dumped her even when flesh-and-blood Alfie's between her legs? Not only does Trish Keenan’s voice sounds as cool and pale as a ghost, but she and Broadcast partner James Cargill are haunted by a never-never vision of Sixties pop and have chased that will o’ the wisp for nigh on a decade now.
The Birmingham duo’s touchstone is the obscure psychedelic outfit United States of America, who pioneered of the use of synthesizers and whose singer, Dorothy Moskowitz, had one of those classic Sixties female voices: emotive but devoid of R&B grit and fire, “white” without being overtly folky. Channeling this purity and poise, Keenan gives songs like “Illumination” and “Unchanging Window” the characteristic Broadcast mood-blend of blithe and ominous; Cargill frames her songs with crisply detailed orchestrations and jazzily swinging beats that betray deep immersion in movie scores, library music and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Along with proper pop tunes, there’s a bunch of splendid mood-piece instrumentals, like “Minus Two”, a bleepy idyll that’s like nap-time muzak for a crèche full of robot tots.
Broadcast avoid the pitfall of retro-pastiche, of coming across either scholarly or campy, because there’s real emotion in these songs: “Distant Call”, for instance, is a lovely and loving song of pained empathy addressed to a friend mired in sorrow.
Not so much a “best of” as a miscellany that shuns their three full-lengths in favour of early EP tracks and rarities from other compilations, The Future Crayon isn’t the “new Broadcast album”, but it might actually be their best record, if you get me.
RIP Trish Keenan