Broadcast - Work and Non-Work (1997)
BY MICHAEL TENZER I NOVEMBER 5, 2008
Sitting in a plush blue chair, I lean back and let the soothing croons of Trish Keenan fill my ears. Looking to the left out the window, there are streaks of orange and yellow and red light outlined by a deep black void. To the right, a few feet away, are a group of beautiful people dressed in cylindrical plastic, bobbing their heads and swiveling their shoulders to the strange, incredible sounds filling the room.
This is the lush, space age lounge reserved for the group known as Broadcast. The lounge is nestled comfortably in the soupy stratosphere of Saturn. It is here that the band is able to construct floating melodies and misty drum rolls out of broken clocks and neglected vinyl records. It is here that the band can play scientist with their unwitting electronic devices, some of them altered and shifted beyond any formal recognition. It is here that the music of Broadcast makes its revolutions.
Released in 1997, Work and Non-Work signaled Broadcast's debut on Warp Records. The album is actually a compilation of the band's earliest singles - all brought together in a mish-mash of glimmering ambience and gentle female vocals - each hovering above the musical outlines of '60s psychedelic pop. The album actually works more effectively as a swatch of variations rather then one cohesive concept. It's much like a jukebox—a jukebox that floats within the cavernous hull of a spaceship.
"Accidentals" is the slowly unwound, record skipped opening to the album with ethereal notes floating around the repeated sample. What follows is "The Book Lovers", a pocket symphonic pop pursuit which is outlined by chiming harpsichord and silken drum somersaults.
Although "Phantom" is the only proper instrumental on the album, there are short musical interludes sprinkled around, before and after songs, giving Work and Non-Work a peculiarly disjointed consistency. At one moment the album is fluttering by with a loose assortment of squishy electronics, and then in comes Trish Keenan's gentle voice to cradle us in her lulling observations.
She looks deep into my eyes from all the way up there. Her eyes are half-hidden by long black bangs—she looks something like an Egyptian goddess—lacquer eye shadow and all. Watching her move and sing on stage amidst the vortex of colors gives me the intense sensation that I'm falling in love with her. Or maybe it's that I'm falling in love with her voice and her words.
Much of Keenan's lyrical workings are indefinite puzzle pieces. Too indefinite to get a concrete interpretation, but also too specific to merely be words for the sake of words. In a sense, that is the grand mystique of her whole approach to songwriting—to understand her but only on the wavering boarder between consciousness and sub-consciousness. There is a peculiar feeling that Keenan wrote some parts of her lyrics when she was half asleep—on purpose.
The lounge is all lit up now, the luminous rings of Saturn tapering around the view through the porthole. The group of beautiful people still groove along without hesitation.
The roof begins to open and suddenly we are all floating in zero-gravity. The music notes float up with us. The band plays on, propelling us further and further, then drawing us back in again.