Back when I wrote about Broadcast’s debut The Noise Made By People, I likened finding other fans of the group to being invited into a secret club—a club in which I implicitly trusted every other member. Listening to the Birmingham group, more accurately, feels more like stepping into a strange and enchanting netherworld that feels strangely familiar but not in any concrete way. Their music is hypnotic and psychedelic, pretty and mysterious.
In their decade and a half together, James Cargill and Trish Keenan—as well as previous members Tim Felton, Roj Stevens and Stephen Perkins—released three studio albums, a full-length collaboration with The Focus Group, a collection of early singles and an equally ample amount of non-album material. It doesn’t seem like an overwhelming amount of material until you start digging, and soon that curious portal into their musical universe fans out into various new pathways and diversions, showcasing different aspects of their sound, from their early lounge-pop singles to more krautrock- and Silver Apples-inspired psych pulses, abstract electronic instrumentals and intricate sound collage work. The band came to a tragic end over a decade ago with Keenan’s passing in 2011, but they left behind an incredible body of work, including some rare and esoteric material that was recently reissued after long being out of print.
As the group’s debut singles compilation Work and Non-Work turns 25, we reached out to some of our favorite artists about their favorite moments in the Broadcast catalog, which range from some of their most melodic singles to some of their more abstract instrumental fare. And one song even ended up as a runaway favorite, so whether or not Broadcast had any hits, well, in this particular cult circle, we can call it a “hit.” Here are 11 artists on their picks for the 10 best Broadcast songs.
“Come On Let’s Go”
from The Noise Made by People (2000; Warp/Tommy Boy)
“‘Come On Let’s Go’ is the first song that comes to mind. The platonic ideal of a Broadcast song, to me, sounds like a fuzzy half-remembered memory of a cosmic tour. Their unwavering momentum of the beat feels like an inevitable push through some Jetsons-esque, Googie landscape, passing by twinkling keys and casually thrown vocals that bounce off their surroundings as you float by. ‘It’s hard to tell who is real in here‘ never felt more apt.” – Alicia Gaines, Ganser
“Message from Home”
from Work and Non Work (1997; Warp/Drag City)
“This song is quintessential Broadcast. It was originally an early B-side, then was released in 1997 by Warp, on a compilation of their previously released EPs, titled Work and Non Work. What I love so much about this song is that it lives somewhere between two different decades: the drums, vocals and keyboard place you in 1960s Paris—very much the sound of Broadcast we all came to love—but the opening to the song leans into that ’90s trip-hop vibe. It’s lounge-y and chill and showcases Trish’s sublimely melancholic vocals. This song also appears on the Maida Vale Sessions that was recently released. It’s titled ‘The Note,’ and if you are a nerd like me, it’s cool to compare this early Peel Sessions version to the studio recording. In fact, I recommend slapping on a pair of headphones and finding any live version of this song. The Black Session, recorded live on French radio station French Inter in 2000, is particularly great.” – Erin Nelson, Beauty Pill
from Tender Buttons (2005; Warp)
“Broadcast excelled at stretching their sound—from elegant ballads to buzzy synth-pop to haunting collage—while always still sounding like themselves. “Tender Buttons,” the title track from my favorite of their records, is a song that has always captured my imagination. The way the acoustic guitar slips in and out of time, that raw oscillator blasting away, those sporadic vocal effects… it feels like an encapsulation of their career, mixing the various aspects of their sound into one disorientingly simple song. Tender Buttons (song and album, both) features that playful dichotomy and surreal beauty that I love so much about Broadcast, and it continues to inspire each time I listen to their work.” – Jonathan Schenke, P.E.
from haha Sound (2003; Warp)
“Choosing a favorite Broadcast song is basically impossible, because there are four distinct eras, from their first single ‘Living Room/Phantom’ to what I consider their final proper release Mother Is The Milky Way, it’s all over the place. I am definitely partial to their compilations that bring together all their singles, b-sides and EPs. But, for me it is always going to be ‘Pendulum,’ from that opening drum pop to the locked in groove at the end with all the sounds swirling around, this song still knocks me over. I’ve watched a live video of them playing it with Trish on guitar from Night and Day festival like 1000 times. It’s one of Broadcasts true bangers, with the pummeling motorik drums, that goes into double time for the chorus. All the noisy guitar stabs, scratches and that little lead after the second chorus, pure bliss. Truly, to this day, every time I listen to this song, and the drum fill that goes in those three cymbal crashes at 2:58, so aggressive and cathartic, gets me every single time. The whole song has been building that moment. And this is still a pop song, just a fried burnt one. Trish Keenan’s melody glides over the instrumental with those ahs, I get chills when she says ‘I’m in orbit.’ The lyrics have haunting imagery, almost sinister in the confused state Trish seems to be. This may be an obvious choice but whatever, this song rules and has been a huge influence on me.” – Joseph Trainor, Dummy
“In 2003, I was working at a record shop in Ottawa called Record Runner. I would religiously sort through the promo CD pile in search of freebies. (After release, we would get to keep the promo CDs!) Broadcast’s Pendulum EP was one of the CDs I remember scribbling my name on. I hadn’t heard the band, but trusted Warp as a genre-bending label and found the artwork intriguing enough to give it a try. I slid the CD into the multi-disc changer and bang! From the opening snare shot, I was won over. A drum sound that resembled a sheet of metal in a hailstorm, James Cargill’s squelching synth’s and Trish Keenan’s truly otherworldly voice came together to make one of the greatest psychedelic sounds I’d ever heard. My mind was blown and I was converted to a lifelong Broadcast devotee. The title track ‘Pendulum’ (which would later appear on the haha Sound LP) is, still to this day, one of my favorite songs.” – Alex Edkins, Metz/Weird Nightmare
“It’s a bit different from the rest of the Broadcast catalogue, Trish’s haunting vocals and lyrics float on top of this driving kraut groove, this cloud of noisy delayed guitars builds into this great peak. I just love the contrast of the serene vocal and the abrasive textures / sinister groove. A darker side of Broadcast. We did a cover of it along with a few other Broadcast tunes during the beginning of the pandemic for an Exclaim magazine livestream. It was really fun and enlightening to dissect these tunes, there’s so much subtlety in the writing. Parts that appear repetitive at first actually change and evolve through the songs in a really beautiful nuanced way. They’re really my favorite group, just a universe I always want to live in.” – Lukas Cheung, Mother Tongues/Zoon
from The Noise Made by People (2000; Warp/Tommy Boy)
“The first time I can remember hearing Broadcast was during a transformative period of my life. I was about to graduate from college, getting over a bad breakup, and had recently decided to break being straight edge exclusively to try hallucinogens. No doubt memorable for countless other reasons, my first experience with psilocybin involved a trek up to my hometown punk house in Wisconsin where my friends lived, and tripping through an extraordinarily foggy cemetery. Once we returned from the cemetery, I vividly remember being entranced by a mix of Stereolab and Broadcast, a totally sensible pairing for any occasion, but maybe especially this one.
“I don’t necessarily think of Broadcast’s music as that particularly trippy, although it’s all there in the ’60s revival aesthetic. I mostly gravitated to how both of those bands’ production was so expressive and adventurous. ‘Echo’s Answer,’ a moving centerpiece on The Noise Made By People, demonstrates Broadcast’s ability to twist the tropes of psychedelic rock songs beyond kitsch and into music jarring and textural in service of a strange kind of beauty. I’m personally a bit obsessed with repetition and the kinds of gradual layering and granular shifts that elevate looped phrases, which this track nails with its glitchy string section and plodding, weightless piano. I could listen to it all day.” – Mike Boyd, Stander
“The Book Lovers”
from Work and Non Work (1997; Warp/Drag City)
“The late Trish Keenan, as singer, narrator, and thought collector, is a very apt tour guide. Following an ITC Entertainment-feeling keyboard arpeggiation, she takes us (lovingly multitracked) through a sinewy melody that is both beautifully self-reliant (that is, it works with but does not depend on the chord changes) and purposeful; it leads us right to the perfect Broadcast refrain: ‘It’s not for everyone.’ Broadcast was both exacting and imperfect. Simultaneously. In ‘The Book Lovers,’ the group could happily coast on the momentum set by its sleek, exhilarating verses (and still have a killer song), but at about two-minutes in, they interrupt the proceedings to put a 1970 Czech horror film soundtrack on the turntable for about 30 seconds—or that’s what it sounds like. For any good artist, I’ve always maintained that ‘everything’s R&D’ and that is, perhaps, what I love most about Broadcast: they gather every scrap of experience, mood, and half heard conversation they can and toss it into the kettle. They create something that tastes familiar but takes the taster someplace entirely new and strange: Broadcast’s own heart and imagination.” – Michael Kentoff, The Caribbean
from Tender Buttons (2005; Warp)
“I took a ten-year hiatus from performing music. I also stopped listening to music in general. In 2017, I decided to pursue music again and downloaded Spotify to start checking out new bands. That week Spotify recommended me [artists in] really interesting genres, Tobias Jesso Jr., was the first and Broadcast was the second or third. These first bands meant a lot to me at the time because I was worried about pursuing music again. I felt very inspired by their music. ‘Black Cat’ is my favorite song right now.” – Daniel Monkman, Zoon
“Teresa, Lark of Ascension”
from Berberian Sound Studio (2013; Warp)
“When I was a kid I would tape-record movies I liked to audio cassette tape and listen back to the movie after I had to return it to avoid the late fees. Often these would be horror films rented from my favorite video store in my hometown. The tapes became a strange sound collage by the time they were done. Broadcast’s soundtrack for Berberian Sound Studio to me is like one of those tapes; abstract, abrupt, and full of mood with songs, screams, atypical short suites of eerie melodic moods juxtaposed with noise.
“Recorded after Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (2009), the soundtrack relates to what is one of my favorite enigmatic film experiences in BSS. To me it is a great example of soundtrack and film aligning with a rare cohesion—the audio serves at the uses of the film. Where BSS sets up a series of mirrors and planes between the film, and the lie, the real sound, and the foley, the real world and the film, the film and the film within the film. Perhaps to me that is why I love this soundtrack so much, it feels refracted and loose but haunting and terrifying like grabbing that tape from my youth and getting snippets of Friday the 13th and The Sentinel between snippets of TV dialogue and tape hiss. Having to pick one Broadcast track is very hard, never mind one from one release of theirs, but I would nominate ‘Teresa, Lark of Ascension’ as displaying some characteristics of melody and menace that I love in this film and soundtrack.” – Terence Hannum, Locrian/The Holy Circle
“Forget Every Time”/”The World Backwards”
“I heard Broadcast for the first time in high school. When I wasn’t plowing through homework I was looking for new music. I had the bug so bad, the working musician bug, but growing up in Houston my boat was rudderless, and all the solutions I read about felt like they didn’t apply to me: no car, no recording knowledge or equipment, a starter guitar, no friends who could relate. So when I would read about Trish Keenan recording vocals with her head in a cardboard box to satisfy her requirements for a song—how could you think of such an idea, let alone listen for the difference? Broadcast was warm, rich, inquisitive, cool not by aesthetic but by seeming to live the music. I was in awe of how much information the band seemed to assimilate and compress, and how they seemed to relate it with such focus. I’ve often thought of their recordings of ‘Forget Every Time’ and ‘The World Backwards’ for John Peel. They’re open-ended; they seem to ask questions rather than answer them. And they make me feel like a person can chart their own course, do their thing—even as, to a degree, a person is always figuring out just what that thing is—and things will be alright. What more can you ask for?” – Eli Winter
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.