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Rarely does an original idea crop up in modern music, and even less frequently does a good one come along. Yet originality still counts for a quite a bit, or at the very least, the arrangement of previously ungrouped elements earns points. For example, Beck may not be a trailblazer, but his conjugation of ideas is, if nothing else, unconventional; he paired hip-hop and bluegrass with finer execution than a firing squad. Broadcast is also on target. Formed in the mid-'90s, Broadcast debuted with three complex but promising EPs, including two released on Stereolab's own label, Duophonic; Warp Records compiled these dazzling songs on 1996's Work and Non Work. With the sad detachment of Portishead and the eerie ambience of Pram, Broadcast joined the small circuit of anti-Britpoppers making a scene in Britain.
Work and Non Work was a trippy, ghoulish album, complete with haunted harpsichord and more distortion than a train wreck. However, the most notable presence on the disc was that of Trish Keenan, the sole vocalist, who embodied the mystique of '60s lounge-pop singers like Astrud Gilberto and Nancy Sinatra. She added a purposeful, cool feel to the band's sound. Listening to this music, one could imagine being in two distinct places: a haunted house or in the studio with Jefferson Airplane, circa 2001. Broadcast could have succumbed to sterile think-rock, but instead, there were several dead-on pop numbers that substantiated the enigma. Unfortunately, the group's first official full-length, The Noise Made by People, doesn't quite fulfill the great promise of the previous singles or the high expectations after waiting four years for its arrival.
Keenan still deadpans every fragmented lyric, but she now comes off sounding pretentious instead of just reserved. The neo-waltz sound also remains, but nothing shines quite as brilliantly as on Work. "Tower of Our Tuning" is every bit as bad as it sounds. "Minus One" is another toiling noise piece, likely meant to be pensive and intriguing. And "Look Outside" is engaging for its aria-like vocals and little else. Still, Noise is not without its charms. "Papercuts" is a brisk waltz, buzzing with chunky chords and cinematic suspense. "Look Outside" is the most typical Broadcast song, and it's gratifying for that simple fact. With chiming, tremolo keyboards and tight, angular riffing, this song sparkles enough to invite repeated listens. The surprise hooks and Keenan's enchanting vocals make up for the lack of inspiration on some songs. Whereas Work could be playing in the background and still garner attention, Noise is the kind of album that demands patience. If you have enough.