"THIS IS THE new art school," Paul Weller declared in 1977 of the many iconoclastic pop groups springing up in the wake of punk, and there are gobs of evidence that he was on to something. This fall marks the return of two of the U.K.'s arty nonrock groups that play as much on one's cinematic tastes as sonic ones. After a three-year silence, Broadcast released the picture-perfect The Noise Made by People in the spring of 2000. Now, Broadcast's Extended Play Two further establishes that these moody musicians from Birmingham are the most noir thing going. Close behind are Bristol's Movietone, shooting their own half-lit musical scenes with secondhand Super-8s.
On Extended Play Two, Broadcast combine the eerier effects of Sixties film soundtracks with the proto-electronica of the Sixties L.A. group the United States of America. Broadcast has a signature sound: dramatic bubbling synths, swinging jazz drums, and the spectral female voice of Trish Keenan, who conjures haunting stills from her dreams. Broadcast's crafted approach is a homage to the classicists like Ennio Morricone and the British sound sculptor Joe Meek. In this mode, the band colors tracks such as the waltzing "Illumination" with echoes and angelic keening. These songs come complete with sonic detailing that suggests the urge to fly with style in the space age.
The even more consciously filmic Movietone shoot in a less familiar location: The band pictured a scene such as the house by the sea in Godard's Le Mépris to create one composition, according to singer/instrumentalist Kate Wright. Movietone accentuate the sparse acoustics of their haphazard chamber playing on their third album The Blossom Filled Streets, which rings with the sound of a bare, wood-floored room. Movietone's looser style, audible on the lengthy instrumental "Year Ending," reveals an acquaintance with the organic, abstract German art rock of Popol Vuh. Throughout, Movietone's disc features unadorned, raw instruments, often woodwinds set against Wright's melancholy words like "Tonight I'm going to let the ocean in, and these shadows, well, I'll just let them be," as a piano, brushed cymbals and snare, and strings swell from backdrop to building storm.
But Movietone's playing often fails to come entirely into focus. The plucked acoustic guitar, viola, tape hiss, and forlorn schoolgirl vocal clash like Katharine Hepburn and Ron Jeremy in a John Woo production. Granted, this disjointed mood is intentional; Movietone zoom in on the existential questions that occur while one sits on a boardwalk in a gray seaside town on "Seagulls/Bass." But Broadcast, gunning galaxies higher with epic tunes, present a more fully realized panorama.
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