The average span of time between Broadcast albums is three years — an ample amount of time to tour, rest, write new songs, experiment, expand and perfect. And at the end of each three-year span, the group emerges with a new, innovative and increasingly glorious permutation of their psychedelic, surrealist pop music. The Birmingham group’s first album, Work and Non Work, technically a singles comp, showed great talent and promise in its Moog-heavy lounge pop. First proper studio effort The Noise Made by People was a more consistent affair, each of the songs fitting better in the context of an album, rather than a collection of singles. The production was more crisp and expansive, the Moogs were louder and the drums were much heavier on the effects, plucking pieces of their vast array of influences (Can, John Barry, Joe Meek, French pop, Piper At the Gates of Dawn) and funneling them into a delightfully trippy work of space-pop wonder.
Fast forward another three years and Broadcast’s latest release, haha Sound, is another immense step forward for the British trio. Where Noise‘s sound had more jagged edges, haha is a much dreamier affair, upping the reverb even more and wrapping everything in a heady gauze of reverb. Where analog synths once dictated the sound, Broadcast’s newest creation is much more reliant on white noise and woozy samples, which, in a lovably impish way, add a sense of childlike melodicism to the mix. And the drums, my god, the drums! They billow and cascade and thunder throughout the album, throwing massive weight behind the group’s melodic constellations.
The first single, “Pendulum” is the track most like the Broadcast of old — a dissonant synth riff drives this song as vocalist Trish Keenan chants a metaphoric, staccato verse comparing love to gravity (“I’m in orbit/ held by magnet/ and the force field’s so much closer than love“). It’s one of the coolest sounding singles one is likely to hear, if not the most accessible, but through the static and buzz lies its dissonant, glorious melody.
Though “Pendulum” may be the most fiercely rhythmic track on haha Sound, when the group allows their sound to launch into another, gorgeous astral plane, the results are consistently breathtaking. “Before We Begin” is a lushly arranged ballad (though backed by those awesomely heavy drums) that arguably could have been a more obvious single choice. It’s certainly catchy, but the sound that wraps around you as you sink into its warm, amorphous ambience is what makes it truly magical. “Man is Not a Bird” is a beautiful, yet subtle tune, contrasting Trish Keenan’s soft coo with a gorgeously simple synth melody and more cavernous beats, before ending in a Carl Stalling-like exercise in odd, cartoon factory percussion. Furthering the group’s foray into melodic mischief is the fun and heavenly “Lunch Hour Pops,” which approximates Krautrock through toy instruments and educational film strips, with Keenan returning to the refrain “let the balloons go outside, let the balloons go outside.”
Many of haha Sound‘s most wonderful moments come through subtler means, from the distortedly folky “Valerie,” and the IDM-gone-lush pop sound of “Minim,” to closer “Hawk,” which is mesmerizing in its delicate sadness, Keenan slowly repeating the lines “out of reach/ some things just cannot be.” Yet all of Broadcast’s most amazing qualities come together on penultimate track “Winter Now,” which combines an unsettling, twinkling sample with a pretty, minor key melody, resulting in a peculiarly gorgeous song. It’s otherworldy, to be sure, but also incredibly sweet and romantic. Keenan sings the swoon-worthy line “you are the only one/ to keep me sane when all is wrong,” before a chorus that’s the aural equivalent of ecstatically spinning in a slow drizzle of snowflakes.
There are so many layers and sonic easter eggs on haha Sound that it’s easy to just lay back and get lost each rabbit hole it may pull you into. At its heart, it’s a delicate and lovely space-pop album, but the deeper you dig, the more curious and incredible pieces to their elaborate puzzle are to be discovered, from elements of exotica and European film soundtracks, to something as simple as a guitar, wrapped in gauzy effects. Oddly futuristic, yet loosely tied to many artifacts from the 1960s, and more stunningly awe-inspiring than pop ever gets, there is no other album like haha Sound.
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.