Public Service Broadcasting
The Race For Space


3.0
good

Review

by StrangerofSorts STAFF
February 18th, 2015 | 29 replies


Release Date: 02/23/2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Break through the atmosphere of cynicism and there is a whole album to explore.

To address the elephant in the room, Public Service Broadcasting's pairing of archive footage and electrically charged indie rock jams was a gimmick. Willgoose and Wrigglesworth, after reflecting on their spectacular names, took the small, archival niche from the interlude of every post-rock album ever made and formed a career out of it. Inform – Educate – Entertain saw energetic synth-lines and infectious build-ups go hand-in-hand with recordings about the development of the Spitfire and benefits of colour TV.

The result was a lot of fun. PSB, no doubt aware of the charm of their recordings and evidently wary of reducing their output to misguided lunges at nostalgia, broke through the shadow of cynicism with sincerity. Inform – Educate – Entertain displayed nothing but endearing fascination for the subject; in their words: 'teaching the lessons of the past through the music of the future.' You say 'gimmick'; I say 'so"'.

The question remained as to whether PSB could stretch this to cover another album, and they have done the right thing in sprucing up the formula. The Race for Space focuses on the politics, drama and defining moments of the 1955-72 space race between the USA and Soviet Union. Narrowing the subject matter has allowed PSB to be more ambitious with their storytelling: enabling them to create a clearer image of the events of the time. What lessons they are precisely trying to teach us beyond the fact that space is quite cool is uncertain, but at least they have a whole album to tell us space is quite cool in a lot of quite cool ways.

Don't mistake narrative restriction for musical restriction, because The Race for Space also sees PSB put a lot of work into evolving their sound. The album begins with JFK's 'We Choose to Go to the Moon' speech, lifts it with angelic cries and within 10 minutes we rush through the robotic, techno-inspired 'Sputnik' and find ourselves midway through the unstoppable funk of lead-single 'Gagarin': an ecstatic tribute to the first man in space complete with a six piece brass section. The cut up samples and high intensity of 'Go!' provides the clearest link to old material, as well as showcasing the duo's best work in seamlessly incorporating archive footage into the music itself.

Other attempts to branch out are not so successful. PSB's sound works best when it is lighthearted, or at least not overly serious. Smoke Fairies collaboration 'Valentina' displays this perfectly by setting its sights on providing a depoliticised tribute to the first woman in space and coming off as confusingly stagnant and a little bit naff. Likewise, the album closer 'Tomorrow' is swamped with slow strings and its own seriousness, and as such remains pretty forgettable.

Stand out 'The Other Side' breaks this trend somewhat. Documenting the tense communication break between mission control and a spaceship as it passes behind the moon, PSB play out the footage with a pulsating, nervous build-up, let the silence fill 'the longest wait' and then return for an explosive, triumphant finale. PSB make it work by allowing themselves to let loose and so avoid robbing the song of its energy despite the tense subject matter.

The album's worst fault is inconsistency, but apart from that there is not much wrong. The duo have been much more ambitious in their second outing and as such can be forgiven for not quite hitting the mark at times. The Race for Space is incredibly fun when it wants to be: showcasing the same joyful sincerity which made their sound work in the first place, despite the fact PSB have embarked on a much more refined and grandiose project. When you leave the worst parts behind and break through the atmosphere of cynicism there is still a whole lot of excitement to explore.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
StrangerofSorts
Staff Reviewer
February 18th 2015


2902 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I had legal access to the pre-release stream. If mods need proof, I'll happily email it over.



It's always funny reading press releases, because then you get to see which reviewers rely on them for most of their content. I'm looking at you Drowned in Sound...



I should be interviewing these guys next week. If you want me to ask anything specific, holla.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY-kAnvOY80

AliW1993
February 18th 2015


7511 Comments


Bugger, I was about to review this...

Big PSB fan. Initially I would have agreed with the rating, but it's grown on me quite a bit over the
past few weeks.

zakalwe
February 18th 2015


23380 Comments


Loved the first one, interesting to see how they've followed it up.

AliW1993
February 18th 2015


7511 Comments


By the way I think it's streaming over at NPR, so no need to worry about it being taken down.

StrangerofSorts
Staff Reviewer
February 18th 2015


2902 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Ahh sick, that's good then.



Originally I was much more of a fan, but then I realised I was only listening to a couple of tracks. I'm definitely very excited to see them live though - I've always seen them as more of a live band anyway.

VheissuCrisis
Emeritus
February 18th 2015


1368 Comments


Nice write up Jonny. I missed these guys at Arctangent, I forget who they clashed with.

StrangerofSorts
Staff Reviewer
February 18th 2015


2902 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Cheers man (: I saw them live before I knew what they were about (actually Ali, didn't you recommend them to me?). I'd definitely catch them if you can- I imagine the new material will go down great.

AliW1993
February 18th 2015


7511 Comments


I vaguely remember mentioning them, yes. I'm seeing them for the seventh time this weekend, they're
really fun live band. I actually endured the Kaiser Chiefs to see their opening slot a few weeks ago.
Gagarin and Go! were the only new songs they did (no surprise, they're basically the only up-tempo
ones), but they both slotted in well.

I started enjoying this record a lot more once I began immersing myself in the subject matter.
Musically it's not that impressive - they don't really have the lightness of touch to truly pull off
those celestial backdrops - but by and large it's the samples which are at the forefront, and they're
wheeled along really nicely.

DrGonzo1937
Contributing Reviewer
February 19th 2015


13615 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review. I enjoyed this a lot more. Love the atmosphere.

Digging: Big Dumb Face - Where Is Duke Lion? He's Dead...

Arcade
Staff Reviewer
February 19th 2015


8453 Comments


started listening to these guys cos of the opening slots with the Manic's, pretty solid band

Digging: King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard - Polygondwanaland

DrGonzo1937
Contributing Reviewer
February 19th 2015


13615 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I still need to check their other LP.

SowingSeason
Moderator
February 19th 2015


25036 Comments


Nice review man. I saw stuff about this and it sounded interesting, so I'll probably listen.

Digging: Brand New - Science Fiction

Ponton
Emeritus
February 19th 2015


6137 Comments


Good read, like your shit

Digging: Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial

StrangerofSorts
Staff Reviewer
February 19th 2015


2902 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

@Ali: seventh?! There was me patting myself on the back for seeing them twice...



Completely agree on the analysis. Although the samples were initially really off-putting for me because they're loaded with such a colossal weight of questionable politics... I mean we're probably talking about the biggest pissing contest ever, right?



There are other acts who use similar samples seriously and do it better, imo.



@all: thanks! (:

AliW1993
February 19th 2015


7511 Comments


Haha, it's not like I've made any particular effort to follow them either. They seem to play every festival I go to these days, not that I'm complaining.

RogueNine
February 22nd 2015


3343 Comments


This program was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by contributions from viewers like you.
Thank you.


I'm sorry, that's PBS.

wtferrothorn
Contributing Reviewer
February 23rd 2015


5771 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Track named Sputnik

Insta 5

AliW1993
February 23rd 2015


7511 Comments


Their set at the 6 Music Festival last night was absolutely tremendous - easily the best I've seen them.

StrangerofSorts
Staff Reviewer
February 23rd 2015


2902 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

They're playing in a record store in Bristol tonight but I'm too busy to go arghhh

AliW1993
February 25th 2015


7511 Comments


Sounds great. But wait, surely that means Willgoose would actually have to talk?



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