On Record – Broadcast: Mother Is The Milky Way / Maida Vale Sessions / Microtronics Vols. 1 & 2 (Warp Records)

mother-is-the-milky-way

written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Broadcast were one of Warp Records’ treasures in the label’s earlier years, yet their output came to a sudden halt with the tragic early death of singer Trish Keenan in 2011. At that point the band were at the peak of their creative powers, which makes this set of reissues and rarities all the more poignant.

The triple pack of rarities is effectively a companion piece to the band’s discography, bringing forward a lost album (2009’s tour-only release Mother Is The Milky Way), a set of BBC sessions from Maida Vale, including three appearances for John Peel, and Microtronics, a two-volume set of 21 instrumentals released as tour-only specials in 2003 and 2005.

What’s the music like?

Fans of the band will not be disappointed – and while many will surely own a good deal of this music, having it reissued in a single pack with due love and attention gives it extra special appeal. It is instructive to be reminded just how imaginative the band were, and how their Englishness shines through in the meeting point of acoustic and electronic.

Mother Is The Milky Way makes a strong impression, and could almost have been recorded during lockdown given its quotient of birdsong and field recordings. The murmured awakening of In Here The World Begins makes a strong impression on headphones, while scenes such as the fuzzy backdrop to Elegant Elephant evoke dappled sunlight. Meanwhile I’m Just A Person In This Roomy Verse has a low register musing but also interference as the listener crosses the dials on the imaginary radio.

maida-vale-sessions

The Maida Vale Sessions are special. Drawn from four different sessions between 1996 and 2003, they have poise and elegance, but also macabre elements and psychedelic tendencies that give the music an appealing unpredictability. The autumnal waltz of The Note (Message From Home) is the perfect place to start, while the wonderful Come On Let’s Go is great to hear again. The insistent phrases of Look Outside make a strong impression, as do the willowy, chromatic arpeggios of the harpsichord on The Book Lovers. A stately Long Was The Year, and the exquisite twilight shadows of Echoes Answer, with an extended coda, are highlights of a session from 2000, while the twinkling lights of Pendulum are the highlight of a session from August 2003.

microtronics

The Microtronics album is fascinating. These snippets are descriptive musical postcards, colourfully shaded and showing off a broad range of styles. The electronic bossa nova of Microtronics 2 is striking, while Microtronics 3 – as with many of the recordings – give a strong sense of eavesdropping in the band’s workshop. Microtronics 6 throws some sonic grenades, while other snippets of note include the clattering drums of Microtronics 12 and the playful keyboard stabs of Microtronics 17.

Does it all work?

Yes. These three documents give a fascinating look under the bonnet of Broadcast’s creative process, while the fully formed songs prove their worth in the sessions. The pastoral element of Mother Is The Milky Way, meanwhile, are full of springtime vitality and promise.

Is it recommended?

Yes – to fans and newcomers alike, providing the newcomers avail themselves of the band’s studio albums too. They will not be disappointed.

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