After months of secrecy and anticipation, the new Public Service Broadcasting album is announced for September and the first track is now released. ‘Bright Magic’ is themed around the city of Berlin, a spiritual home of electronica and other-worldly sounds. PSB are known for incisive use of sampled spoken words and revived archive recordings but their last album ‘Every Valley’ featured more conventionally structured songs and guest vocalists too.
This new track with the instruction of ‘People, Let’s Dance’ is a multi-layered blend of synths, 80s guitar interventions, super-deep bass and the driving drums that bring these masterful compositions to life. The extra bonus this time is the glacial warmth of the vocals from lyric writer EERA, the performing name of Norwegian singer Anna Lena Bruland. Singing and speaking mostly in German her voice overlaps, backs itself and is treated, echoed and integrated like another orchestra of instruments. The video features dancers roller skating around some of the bleaker industrial landscapes around the Thames in East London, adding to the overall hypnotic effect of this excellent track and the invitation translated as ‘…come, dance and lose yourself…’
Public Service Broadcasting arrived at a sold-out Corn Exchange as part of their biggest tour so far. Support was from the excellent Smoke Fairies, playing dreamy, atmospheric folk-guitar based songs, the dual female voices blended carefully in the mix to become like another instrumental texture for most of the time, occasionally with a single lead vocal. Sustained bass and deep keyboard notes hovered over some mighty drumming and the atmospheric retro/future look of black and silver for simple stage set and costumes worked well.
Then there was an intriguing half hour while the stage was set, roadies and band members all up there fixing the bits and pieces. No doubt there was probably more technological power than that used to control the moon landings. The three bespectacled and necktied musicians of PSB, complete with visuals and effects co-ordinator opened with ‘Sputnik’ (including a satellite rising from the stage) and set the tone for a great show. They were playing live drums, percussion, various guitars, keyboards, loops, flugel horn and banjo (!)….on CD the music and sampled voices work well (see my earlier review), but beef up the concert sound and add the visuals too and it makes the band a formidable live attraction.
Two large screens at the back and flanking towers of retro TVs show images of the space race, film of the band as they played and in the most arresting and poignant section of the show, civilian preparations for World War Two and the development of the Spitfire. All communication with the audience was through pre-recorded then manipulated soundbites in a robot voice, which is either a subtle comment on the artifice of modern rock shows or actually just a very entertaining joke (why are robot voices intrinsically funny?).
I was stunned by the hypnotic roll of ‘Night Mail’, the rocking out of ‘The Now Generation’ and ‘Signal 30’, the pulsing electronica of ‘Theme From PSB’ and the newer space songs were woven in to maximum effect. Smoke Fairies were back on stage to add heavenly voices to ‘Valentina’ and the final Moon landing song and new single ‘Go!’ closed the main show. Back for the encore with the musically different and extra-funky ‘Gagarin’, complete with brass section and astronaut dancer. Finally it was ‘Everest’ (have the band peaked?!) and that was it, the crowd were very happy and it was one of the best shows I have seen at the Corn Exchange for a long time.