Broadcast: Pendulum


Broadcast's "You Can Fall" popped up on last year's best soundtrack, to the fragmentary, hallucinogenic Morvern Callar, in which an enigmatic party girl's mix tape is the master key to her psyche. Ominously shimmering synth riffs wash over vocalist Trish Keenan's blank-slate incantations of the title, which could represent a threat of danger or a promise of rapture--vivid ambiguity serves both the film and the band well. But what about the stage? The Birmingham-born group's ornate transmissions can fill any venue to trembling, but their sample-heavy compositions are Joseph Cornell boxes of intricate effects, darker and less exuberant than the output of their fellow space-age travelers Stereolab. And Keenan's stage presence could make an electro chanteuse like Sarah Nixey appear downright warm and personable: On the tour for Broadcast's first non-compilation LP, 2000's The Noise Made by People, the frontwoman often turned her back on the audience (and her heads-down comrades were no less shy).

A nod to Miles Davis? The new Pendulum EP swings closer to jazz influences than Broadcast has before, most overtly in how the decisive, generally straightforward percussives have grown more restless and improvisational, especially on the Beat bomp of "One Hour Empire." (Broadcast have lost a drummer and a keyboard player since Noise; bassist James Cargill handles production duties.) Like many extended players, Pendulum is an often disorganized round of spring cleaning before the album proper (Ha Ha Sound, due out this summer); witness the studio romping of "Violent Playground," where the chaotic soundscape could indeed provide the score for a Lord of the Flies remake. But the record is also a promising preview of things to come. "Small Song IV" heats and sweetens Keenan's voice inside a delectable crust of stutter-tones and synth feedback. The title track finds her trilling "I'm in orbit" with convincing ardor, while Tim Felton's guitars skid and crash and the keyboards' push-organ dissonance suggests the happy vehemence of strong feelings.

Feelings for what, it's unclear--the song could be a zero-gravity love ballad or an ecstatic paean to scientific enlightenment. Or both: Broadcast reward chronic listening while always remaining just out of reach.

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