Even if you didn’t know that this band had recently scaled down from a quintet to a duo, there is an unmistakable black-and-white pairing that’s discernable from the very outset. It’s a hybrid presence that may not necessarily appear natural at first, given the difference in sound to their former work, but feels rather like the dials of a radio have been laid to rest halfway between stations: one on an experimental, Silver Apples-like electro channel, and the other the breathy poetics of a French chanteuse.
In fact, the radio analogy is a fitting one given the fizzing scramble of James Cargill’s electronica, chirping like the sounds of one of the first ever computer games. The effect that Broadcast generate together, however, makes it difficult not to think that they’re going for a modern re-take on the same dynamic that lay at the core of The Vevet Underground and Nico. Chiefly responsible for this impression is the stylistic, cigarette-cradling pout that one can imagine behind the purposefully indifferent melodica of Trish Keenan’s vocals on tracks like “Black Cat” (a song that serves effectively as an acute statement about depression).
However, for all their sizing down, the highlights here are the songs where other instruments are given a presence that’s noticeable away from the magnifying ear of a set of headphones. The beginning to the title track, for example, is simply brilliant; a thick bass riff and a fiddling acoustic graft out an effective momentum before the two greater elements feel ready to impose themselves. Similarly, the sweetened melancholy of “Tears in the Typing Pool” is perhaps the most easily digestible piece on the album, whereas the Neu!-like instrumental “Bit 35” again utilises a driving bass sound (and little else) to great effect.
In the end, there’s something that really works here, something about finding a spot halfway between these two entities that makes Tender Buttons one of the most interesting and distinct releases of the year. Whether it’s the static signal of Kraftwerk meeting Chelsea Girl on “Goodbye Girls,” or the pop-covered challenge to the Iraq War on “America’s Boy,” James Cargill and Trish Keenan make for a combination not to be balked at.Powered by Sidelines