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Broadcast - Tender Buttons

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Artist: Broadcast

Album: Tender Buttons

Label: Warp

Review date: Sep. 20, 2005

In the two years that have passed since the great Haha Sound was released, most of the members of Broadcast have gone this way or that. To be fair, Trish Keenan (vocals) and James Cargill (everything else) have argued that they were technically the only full-time members of the band from its inception. Still, I'm sure I'm not the only one who's always assumed that the ever-evolving cadre of musicians on the group's two previous full-lengths and numerous singles played a substantial part in making Broadcast one of the most consistently interesting of all contemporary pop groups, and easily my favorite act on the Warp label's roster.

When I heard that only Keenan and Cargill would be playing on the new album Tender Buttons, I feared for the worst, but my apprehensions were completely unfounded. Far from making the band less interesting, the lack of interference from forces outside of the core duo seems to have made the two more focused than ever.

Mostly gone are the relatively chaotic song structures and noisy interludes that might have made Haha Sound a difficult album for some listeners, especially those first-timers who expected Broadcast to be the Stereolab clones that so many critics have repeatedly made them out to be. Sure, there are similarities - they're fronted by a female vocalist and their music could easily be pigeonholed as electronic pop - but in my opinion, Broadcast are much more interesting than Stereolab have ever been. With each album, Broadcast have been more and more successful in their efforts to integrate an ambitiously wide variety of uncommon influences into their music. A quick glance at the free DJ mixes that the band has offered on its website for the past two years indicates a whole array of artists who have inspired their sound, from the psychedelic avant-pop of the United States Of America, to the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone, the groundbreaking popular electronic compositions of Tom Dissevelt, and the eccentric library music of the recently deceased genius Basil Kirchin. Whereas past Broadcast albums have been a little bit like musical collages, pasting together bits and pieces of borrowed and original ideas in exciting and unexpected ways, Tender Buttons showcases a band fully digesting and connecting their influences into a less-fragmented whole.

Conspicuously missing on Tender Buttons is the phenomenal drumming of Neil Bullock, whose presence loomed very large on the last album. I initially felt a little bit disappointed that the beats for almost every song on the new one are electronic, but after a couple of listens I came to legitimately love the change. It's so satisfying when a band is able to subtly re-invent its sound, as Keenan and Cargill have done here so well. Old analog drum machines and fuzzy 8-bit synthesizers dominate the record, and the pairing sounds pretty damned terrific. The arrangements are simpler than they've been in the past, which makes Trish's beautiful and infectiously memorable vocal parts stand out more than ever. While not as formally ambitious as Haha Sound, anyone who believes in the supremacy of song will probably enjoy this even more. Call it their "less is more" album; Tender Buttons is a tiny step backward and a huge step forward.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

Other Reviews of Broadcast

HaHa Sound

The Future Crayon

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View all articles by Rob Hatch-Miller

Find out more about Warp

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