Review: Public Service Broadcasting – Inform – Educate – Entertain

Public Service Broadcasting announced themselves last year with a bold manifesto to “teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future”. On paper this sounds like a rather pretentious prospect. Nevertheless, their concerts, where they accompany their audio nostalgia with archive video footage, has attracted audiences searching for that elusive, deeper, three-dimensional live experience.

Public Service Broadcasting Album Cover

If one were to dissect Public Service Broadcasting they would discover a strange hybrid of Kraftwerk-derived melody, accompanied by the motorik rhythms of lesser known Krautrock bands. Teutonic directions aside, however, the USP is merging these influences with samples from public service and propaganda films which lend most of these tracks a haunted, mysterious quality. Some have accused them of being contrived and they have a point, after all the use of sampling is hardly new and they wouldn’t be the first band to attempt to emulate the magic of German pioneers. In the case for the prosecution, the confusing, banjo-led ‘ROYGBIV’ may provide a bit of light relief but doesn’t even approach the standard of Boards Of Canada’s track of the same name and ‘The Now Generation’ sounds like a tired facsimile of the aforementioned Kraftwerk.

Yet there’s much to savour here too. The insistent machine-made rhythms and usage of wartime dialogue elevate ‘Spitfire’ to one of the most effective moments. Elsewhere, there’s playful electro-pop (‘Theme From PSB’) whilst waves of grinding guitars channel the aggression of British Sea Power on ‘Signal 30’. Tellingly, PSB are at their best when they keep things less complicated. ‘Night Mail’ may feature somewhat mundane subject matter but the piece is shrouded in glacial melancholic melody, the equally understated ‘Lit Up’ is another moving highlight and the nocturnal, noirish ‘Late Night Final’ ends the album on a satisfyingly, largely word-free note.

Unaccompanied by the visuals of their well-received live shows, it’s arguable that listening to the album is like watching a film with your eyes closed but this should not deter potential listeners from enjoying ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ as a standalone piece of entertainment. Indeed, the combination of propulsive rhythms, chilling archive dialogue and no shortage of tunes leads to an experience that is both edifying and shiver-inducing.

Web Sites:
Public Service Broadcasting Official Site
Public Service Broadcasting performing ‘Night Mail’ at LeeFest 2013

Further Listening:
Kraftwerk, Komputer, British Sea Power, Colourbox


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