Windswept Vistas, Alien Landscapes
When English electronic outfit Broadcast chose "Echo's Answer" as the lead single to their debut album, The Noise Made by People, they made quite a statement. Though their first record, 1997's singles compile Work and Non Work, had delivered languorous, retro-toned pop-songs (like "The Book Lovers" and "Lights Out") so stirringly melodic that someone, somewhere, must've been dreaming of commercial crossover, "Echo's Answer" was anything but a regular single. It was strange, eerie, otherworldly. The were no warm tones, farfisa licks, or jazzy drums. There was just space, and lots of it.
Arriving over six months before Kid A theoretically re-wired modern music, the alien landscape of "Echo's Answer" had, in pop music, few precedents. It's a handful of organ chords, a sinuous pitch-shifting string part, and ripples of digital manipulation; a handful of strange, unfamiliar, untetherable sounds slipping in and out of the cavernous silence at the song's core. Trish Keenan's lyrics —sung in her pure, undramatic, cool clip— take place on a mountain-top; the singer listening to the wind gust and die, creating natural drone in the echoes of a valley.
"Echo's Answer" is, in its own way, a pop song. It's three minutes long, it has verses and a repeated chorus, and Keenan's casually beautiful voice has, as ever, charm, grace, and a kind of human immediacy to it. Yet, by putting it out ahead of The Noise Made by People —as opposed to a more saleable song like "Come On Let's Go"— Broadcast were clearly announcing that their first ever LP proper was going to be anything but the expected.
The Noise Made, By People, on The Noise Made by People
Suitably, a sense of sonic experimentation is the constant cadence of The Noise Made by People. Moreso, even, than Keenan's voice; which, here, often sits inside the ensemble; or, in some moments, is abandoned entirely for instrumental studies of texture and mood. The album was the product of over two years continuous labor for the band; a period fraught with tensions, and riddled with doubts.
But you can hear the care, the thought, and the toil in every arrangement. Even when they boast verse/chorus structure, no song ever sits still, ever falls into the rut of repetition. The pseudo-torchsong "You Can Fall" is intermittently slugged with a keyboard treated to the point of grotesquerie; its tone hideous, ugly. The spooked outro "Dead the Long Year" walks through the elephant graveyard of trip-hop, surveying the corpses of those who sampled Spaghetti Westerns and lived to sample no longer. And, every time you listen to the LP, there's "Echo's Answer," standing tall —or, moreso, still— as three minutes of distant, elusive, eternal audio perfection.
Broadcast emphasize the importance of "Echo's Answer" even has an echo —or, perhaps, an answer— later on the LP; when "Until Then" employs similar tricks (irregular outbursts of discordance, a washed-out string section artificially pitched, a sense of constant unease and dread) in a far more complex, dizzying, dystopian-sounding mix.
Long was the Career
Listening to either track —of, indeed, any track— it's impossible not to marvel at the precious intricacies and precise sonic details of the productions; not to wonder how these people arrived at making this noise.
At the time, upon its release, in 2000, it seemed that no one truly appreciated these more avant-garde moments; truly recognized how radical, how revolutionary, how evolutionary an album Broadcast had authored. Too much attention was paid to the handful of beatnik beat-pop songs here (the commercially-accessible moments, really), to the band's bizarre appearance on an Austin Powers soundtrack, to their passing similarities to Stereolab.
Of course, the fact that The Noise Made by People was misunderstood, underrated, or overlooked essentially set the tenor for Broadcast's career. Hereafter, each successive LP was treated as less of a priority by Warp; each missive sent out to smaller, more hardcore collection of fans each time.
It was only Trish Keenan's tragic death, in 2011, that revealed just how many of these devoted-few fans were in bands, were artists, were critics; revealed just how personal a connection listeners felt to Broadcast's songs, and the singer who gave them life. For all its retrofuturist strangeness and constructed radicalism, the band's maiden album is about such a human connection: this is noise made by people, for people.
Record Label: Warp
Release Date: March 20, 2000