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Broadcast – Tender Buttons

The third album by British electronic band Broadcast, Tender Buttons, borrowed its title from the 1914 modernistic work of prose poetry by Gertrude Stein. The latter was hailed as an idiosyncratic work of “verbal cubism”; and its influence on Broadcast’s music is evident.

Each of the fourteen songs on the album are presented as a delicately crafted vignette; deliberately juxtaposed against the raucous electronic landscape for which the band is known. Its lyrics are chopped and shuffled in such a way where they manage to be both upfront and ambiguous at the same time. Like a diamond in the rough, the songs in the album require concentration and close listening; sparkling with intensity and emotion only when uncovered.

While this album may not have as many “stand out tracks” as compared to their previous effort, Ha Ha Sound, it still is a formidable album in its own right. With members condensed to only lead singer, Trish Keenan, and bassist, James Cargill; more thought appears to have gone into the conceptualization of the album as a whole – with the songs seemingly losing its meaning when considered individually.

‘I found the F’ starts the album off with Keenan’s deadpan yet wispy vocals, which are underscored with trembling dissonance. However, this works out well for the band, and is demonstrated brilliantly in ‘Corporeal’ and ‘Michael A Grammar’.

The amiable single ‘America’s Boy’ also adds a fair bit of buoyancy to the album, while the sparse ‘Tears in the Typing Pool’ – complemented only with gentle strumming – evokes a rare moment of undisguised tenderness. An alternate reprisal of the opening track titled ‘I Found the End’ rounds off the album on a slower, but no less impactful note.

Broadcast’s musical influences are numerous and span from psychedelic group The United States of America to the minimalist band Young Marble Giants. Their penchant for experimentation and eagerness to incorporate different sounds into their music are some of the reasons how the band is able to consistently surprise their audience; yet never subverting their expectations.

Keenan and Cargill have managed to develop a stark and defiant aesthetic that realizes the core of what their music is all about. While it may initially appear standoff-ish; a closer listening reveals an unmistakable heart – the way in which it commands the undivided attention of the listener easily makes this one of Broadcast’s most intriguing efforts to date.

– Yishu

Images credit: Broadcast, Viceland, Amador Lorenzo

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