Revisiting Broadcast’s Healing Psychedelia

Resting somewhere between dream pop and indie electronic, Broadcast is an English band consisting of Trish Keenan and James Cargill as its two constant members. In all senses, the group disbanded in 2011 with the death of Trish Keenan from complications with pneumonia and swine flu, though Cargill is said to be working on new material with Keenan’s recorded vocals. I discovered Broadcast later that same year and it has since become one of the core groups around which I base my music taste and philosophy.

Broadcast’s first two albums, The Noise Made by People (2000) and Haha Sound (2003), feature a minimalist sound that can be described as fresh, cinematic, and playfully somber. Sweeping keyboard lines reminiscent of a medieval harpsichord or an organ, syncopated percussion, and electronic effects set up an emotive landscape of unsettling undertones. Trish Keenan’s carefree vocals, singing of ominous clouds and melancholy, complete an auditory portrait of a protagonist trying to negotiate their existence in an unfair world.

Tender Buttons (2005), Broadcast’s third and last traditional album, is most likely to be taken up by Spotify’s algorithms today, with a higher tempo that gives more of a pop feel and more integrated sound. In Tender Buttons, the band’s characteristic unsettling undertone shifts to one of calculated and intentional awkwardness. Here, the protagonist is more caught up with the world and is left to question the psyche.

Outside these three records, Broadcast released a collaborative album with The Focus Group in 2009, a soundtrack for British horror film Berberian Sound Studio in 2013 (recorded before Keenan’s death), and many EPs. My favorite of these is a 1997 compilation of their early material, Work and Non Work.

Speaking referentially, Broadcast can be compared to a trip hop-like, kraut-ed up Stereolab. However, the best word that can describe Broadcast’s sound is psychedelic. Below is an except from a 2009 interview with Trish Keenan in The Wire on her experience with psychedelia:

[Psychedelia isn’t] a world only reachable by hallucinogens but obtainable by questioning what we think is real and right, by challenging the conventions of form and temper… I discovered psychedelia and it seemed to have self-help properties that allowed me to let go of an immobilizing working class pride that was cementing a false identity into my psyche, stopping me from transforming.

Broadcast’s sound evokes a self awareness that is necessary to live with depth and sincerity. To me, this makes Broadcast truly powerful, and in Trish’s words, transformative. In today’s increasingly dystopian and disheartening political climate, we could all use some psychedelia.



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