There’s no way around it, fellow earthlings: this is a smart album. With their second full-length release, entitled The Race For Space, British musical duo Public Service Broadcasting has once again produced a stellar combination of instrumental prowess, conceptual ingenuity, and emotional depth.
Ethereal tones ease the listener into the titular first track on the album, and after a few gentle moments, the brave tenor of JFK’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech of 1962 suddenly pierces through the haze. The speech has been spliced apart rhythmically to match the underscore, and the underscore’s chords rise and fall in alternating major and minor to match Kennedy’s inspirational words. As the speech finishes to rousing applause, a pulsing, electronic beat begins, ushering in the second track, called “Sputnik.” And with that, we’re off – off on a journey through the stars, with Public Service Broadcasting acting as our daring commanders.
But before we launch much further into uncharted territory, it might help to know a little about Public Service Broadcasting’s musical modus operandi. The London-based group has a history of working closely with the British Film Institute to gather archived audio clips around which to build their music. Band members J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth (or, at least, those are the names they’ve chosen to disclose) then take the samples and layer them on top of intricately woven pieces of original music that seems to draw inspiration from electronica, prog rock, and alternative music. The principle of the thing is undeniably clever, and, with a lesser set of musicians, it would be easy for such an ambitious project to fall flat. Public Service Broadcasting, however, has completed their mission with extraordinary success.
With The Race For Space, the group pulled samples from American and Soviet communications from the Space Race, which lasted from 1957 to 1972, and thematically, the album engages with specific historic moments from that electrifying era. Each track concerns a particular event, and they range from the triumphant, such as the funky “Gagarin,” which celebrates the success of Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, the first human to travel into outer space, to the tragic, such as the grating “Fire in the Cockpit,” which details through somber voiceover the unfortunate Apollo 1 launch pad fire of 1967.
It’s difficult to say whether the concept or the music steals the show with this album, and frankly, that’s a good thing. To see such a strong thematic premise is effectively augmented by such strong music is a true pleasure. The Race For Space is certainly unconventional, but the importance and excitement of its subject matter and honesty of its delivery might just render it universally likeable. Public Service Broadcasting has, if you’ll pardon the cliché, boldly gone where no man has gone before with this one, and that’s something to be admired. So you don’t think alternative-electronic-prog-voiceover-space-rock is for you? Give The Race For Space a listen – you just might change your mind.