The south London multi-instrumentalists look to the stars for terrestrial inspiration
Public Service Broadcasting’s ‘Inform, Educate, Entertain’ was buoyed by a surplus of inventiveness and ambition. It was a remarkable debut, with a coherence and a confidence that sounded like the work of artists who had been making music for years. For anyone concerned that the follow-up might be hindered by an exhaustion of ideas, no such anxiety is necessary. While this second album revisits the musical template of the first in terms of its multiple textures, layers and use of samples, ‘The Race For Space’ features a collision of impressively eclectic and seemingly disparate genres, all underpinned by PSB’s reliably innovative use of electronics.
‘The Race For Space’ is very much a concept album, but it’s thankfully more informed by the post-modern aesthetics of Factory Records than the prog rock indulgences of bands such as King Crimson and ELP. The album’s key themes are revealed by its eponymous opener, a delicate collage of ambient noodlings accompanied by snippets of John F Kennedy’s landmark speech explaining his vision of space exploration and its importance in the history of mankind, illustrating the passion that PSB’s J Willgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth have for these sort of scientific and interstellar concerns.
Although the recording may occasionally lack the immediacy of ‘Inform, Educate, Entertain’, there are plenty of twists and turns in unexpected directions, plenty of challenging explorations of new dimensions of sound. The demented jazz-funk of ‘EVA’ and the blissed-out harmonics of the Balearic-tinged ‘Valencia’, which features a real human female vocal, are two good examples. ‘Gagarin’ similarly provides a surprise excursion to a futuristic dancefloor, complete with nifty fret work and mighty horn stabs. ‘Go’ is the most infectiously catchy track here and illustrates just how dextrous the duo are at merging an innate pop sensibility with experimental soundscapes and seamlessly rhythmic sampling.
Central to the success of the album is the manner in which the music evokes the grandeur and wonder of the currently stalled space race, serving as a pleasingly nostalgic document for a bygone era. While the majority of the tracks are decisively upbeat and celebratory, one of the most affecting moments is ‘Fire In The Cockpit’, an eerie mood piece combining samples describing the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire and droning waves of static and white noise. ‘The Other Side’ meanwhile revisits the first manned mission outside Earth’s orbit, the samples detailing the tense communications blackout that the Apollo 8 astronauts experienced when they journeyed to the far side of the moon and the relief of re-emerging within transmission range and the guidance of mission control.
Human endeavour and achievement, be it earth or space bound has remained a recurrent theme of Public Service Broadcasting’s work – and they should be applauded for celebrating it in a way that is endearing and inspirational. ‘The Race For Space’ is a fascinating and highly accomplished album that references the past, while bravely gazing into the future.