Broadcast – Spell Blanket: Collected Demos 2006-2009

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Broadcast spell blanket review

On September 28, 2011, less than a year after the untimely passing of Broadcast vocalist Trish Keenan, her musical partner James Cargill shared a demo on Soundcloud she’d recorded titled “The Song Before the Song Comes Out.” It’s only 42 seconds long, just barely a song, and it features only Keenan’s voice as lo-fi and imperfect as most of us had ever heard it, as if she hit record while she was on a long walk. Yet there’s enough of a melody that it’s not hard to see what might become of it with a little time and tinkering, the barest suggestion of the kind of otherworldly magic that Broadcast harnessed throughout their career.

“The Song Before the Song Comes Out,” arriving so soon after the Keenan’s death, couldn’t be detached from the grief over that loss, but it brought a sense of comfort as well—that we would be able to bear witness to this enchanting voice again, through songs that had yet to be heard. Shortly thereafter, Cargill confirmed that there was a lot of material the duo had been working on together up to that point, but that he wouldn’t be able to treat a finished version of it in the same way he would with past Broadcast albums. “The next thing I release with Trish on it will be more like a monument and a tribute to her rather than this obsessive thing I used to have about making albums,” Cargill told The Guardian in 2011.

Cargill never did release that finished version of an unnamed fourth Broadcast album, instead ostensibly wrapping up all Broadcast business with the Berberian Sound Studio soundtrack in 2013. He also made a tradition of sharing an unreleased demo from the archives every September 28, celebrating Keenan’s birthday by giving a gift to Broadcast’s small but dedicated cult fanbase. Some of them were early versions of familiar songs, like “Goodbye Girls” and “Tears in the Typing Pool,” from 2005’s Tender Buttons. Others were previously unreleased (and unfinished) songs such as the dreamlike fantasy of “Tunnel View” or the gorgeous baroque folk of “Petal Alphabet.” That rich archive of previously unheard Broadcast demos finally sees proper release with Spell Blanket: Collected Demos 2006-2009. A sprawling, 36-track, 65-minute collection that comprises everything from stark sketches to material that sounds nearly finished, it offers the suggestion of perhaps two or three albums’ worth of songs and presents, once and for all, the warm tribute to Trish Keenan that Cargill suggested more than a decade ago.

Spell Blanket is a lot of material to take in one sitting, overwhelming in the sheer volume of music it presents. As a collection of demos, however, much of its contents end in a minute or less, a little over one-third of these songs arriving as sketches or exercises, fascinating enough to hear on their own even though it’s impossible to say where they might have gone next. “Greater Than Joy” is a vocal sound collage akin to Haha Sound‘s “Oh How I Miss You,” whereas “My Body” is something more like a seance, a spoken hallucination that would have made suitably eerie fodder for the group’s 2009 collaboration with The Focus Group, Witch Cults of the Radio Age. Some tracks, such as “My Marble Eye” and “Call Sign” are little more than reference loops, but they’re unsurprisingly, texturally, tonally interesting regardless, even as interludes.

It’s in the more fleshed-out material that Spell Blanket feels even more miraculous, and in a purely practical sense, like that final Broadcast album that never quite made it to two-inch tape or hard drive. Even in lo-fi, abbreviated form, the playful psychedelic melodicism of Broadcast’s celebrated studio material is instantly recognizable, whether via the yé-yé-in-a-cave pop of “Roses Red” or the dazzling toy-keyboard minimal wave of “A Little Light.” “March of the Fleas” is the first actual song here, as well as one that feels closer to a finished song overall, Keenan’s layered vocals echoing over descending guitar chords, and a curious menagerie of crashing and squealing effects. And at one minute and 18 seconds, “Hip Bone to Hip Bone” is entirely too short, but its hypnotic vocal harmonies, booming space-age atmosphere and stark bass groove prove instantly dazzling.

There are a handful of moments throughout Spell Blanket that suggest a band stretching even farther beyond their signature sound, as evident on the glorious “Follow the Light.” Comprising only Keenan’s hypnotic vocals and a gentle flutter of synth arpeggio, it’s a stunning paradox, somehow barely there yet wanting for nothing else. “Running Back to Me,” by contrast, is a little bit nastier, a sinister pulse that flips the group’s typically bright hypnagogia into something far darker. Yet even amid more familiar sounds, like the Tender Buttons-style pop of “The Games You Play,” it’s still wonderful to hear Broadcast simply being Broadcast on a four-track.

Spell Blanket, along with upcoming companion release Distant Call, which mostly comprises demo versions of songs from the group’s catalog, make up what will definitively be the last Broadcast releases. Which in itself is bittersweet, but as a final gift from Cargill and the late Keenan, it nonetheless feels overwhelmingly generous. This isn’t a final Broadcast studio album, and taken as the ample collection of material that it is, it couldn’t be mistaken for that either. Yet even so, there’s a flow and a logic to it, otherworldly fragments and spectacular songs woven together in a manner that’s reminiscent of their wilder experiments on Witch Cults or the tour-only EP Mother Is the Milky Way, which Warp reissued in 2022. Officially speaking, this may be where Broadcast ends, but in the bounty of music offered through Spell Blanket, Broadcast lives on.

Label: Warp

Year: 2024

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Broadcast spell blanket review

Broadcast: Spell Blanket—Collected Demos 2006-2009

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