Review Summary: Oh Berlin, immortal city...!
From London to Berlin. The always inquisitive minds behind Public Service Broadcasting, namely J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth (I swear these are not fictional names), have switched their focus from the Welsh coal industry crisis and the race to space themes of 2017's Every Valley
to the immortal city of Berlin for the project's latest output. Bright Magic
will be remembered as the album that saw them drifting apart from their meticulous use of archival samples of vintage footage, propaganda recordings and old AV transmissions, which they used to combine with different tastes of post rock, to the spiraling trance of German krautrock, 80s’ synthwave and even some flirtations with Teutonic flavored power pop.
In order to tell this melancholic tale, set in Germany's busiest hub, the duo has teamed up with different Berlin-based artists and musicians to craft a record that summons the ghosts of early Kraftwerk, Vangelis' emblematic work in Blade Runner's soundtrack and a few nods to the now sadly disassembled Daft Punk along the way.
is divided roughly in two different sections. The first half introduces the album with a dream-like overture of synths and wavelengths in a permanent crescendo that culminates in the vivid second track "Im Licht". Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds longtime conspirator and entrepreneur Blixa Bargeld is the first voice to be featured on this new record. Fronting the heavy-duty beats of "Der Rhythmus der Maschinen", he provides the track with much needed character through his frantic performance, collected at first and increasingly aroused as the song cruises on. Unfortunately, the momentum is somewhat halted before reaching a zenith, leaving the listener in the hands of first single "People, Let's Dance", which otherwise translates to some superb house bouncing. The transition feels natural, but I personally wish that the growth of Bargeld's track allowed for more intensity and a more ambitious ending.
This feeling gets quickly dismissed because "People, Let's Dance" is one of the album's bops alongside a little dream pop gem titled "Blue Heaven". While the former is driven by Ninja Tune's very own Norwegian singer EERA channeling a wide array of robotic vocals and synthetic melodies, "Blue Heaven" features Berlin based artist and singer Andreya Casablanca. This track is the most organic, band-based cut of the album, a mix of powerful dream pop mounted on krautrock wheels that is the equivalent of Every Valley
's highlight "Progress", which I still remember, it was one of my favorite songs back in 2017. EERA has a second spot in a little trip hop, jazzy tune titled "Gib mir das Licht", which closes the first section of Bright Magic
on a very high note.
And here comes the fog.
The second part of PBS' latest is not as balanced and rich as the first part, maybe due to the lack of featured singers and the inclusion of a three-part suite called "Lichspiel" that delves deeper into the band's electronic brand of post rock and expansive soundscapes, oozing the works of artists like Vangelis or Tangerine Dream, while relying almost entirely on pads and synth textures instead of including their well-known arsenal of those vintage recordings that made PBS' early works stand out. While the three-part odyssey is not a disaster, it gently kills the mood, calling for patient ears, which after the uplifting but brief shake of the first half, they still may be craving for the afterparty. Instead, the duo drives it home with an otherwise admirable hangover. German actress Nina Hoss closes the album with an AMSR interlude based on her reading of a poem written by German journalist Kurt Tucholsky titled "Ich und die Stadt", while rain tickles the asphalt and distant notes glide in the background. Undoubtedly, a beautiful and fitting send-off.
On paper, the idea of Public Service Broadcasting doing a futuristic noir take on the Berlin night city sounds incredibly enthralling, and while the first half delivers brilliant compositions like the buildup of the intro track into "Im Licht" and the likes of dancefloor stomper "People, Let's Dance" or pop candy "Blue Heaven", the second half feels like it could have been designed differently. All in all, Bright Magic
is one more solid entry into the duo's catalogue, and who knows, maybe the next one will take place literally on the Moon. We already have seen much less talented people flying near it this year so... Who knows?!