Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space
Public Service Broadcasting’s second album took flight at Leicester’s National Space Centre with two live shows, positing it as a multi-media experience rather than just something to nod along to. With their debut soaring relatively high in the charts in 2013, some wondered where the London duo Willgoose and Wrigglesworth would take their ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’ ethos next, so The Race For Space fulfills the nostalgic retro-futurist electronica we have come to recognise as the sound of PSB, but focuses on specific historic events: the mid 20th century tech-war between the US and the USSR, objectively presented by the double-sided album cover. Archive recordings from space shuttles beamed to Houston are cut between received-pronunciation news clips and BFI archive samples, overlaying a cascading soundtrack that juxtaposes clinical tech centres with the humanity of the individuals who pioneered - and perished - exploring the vacuum of space.
The album leaves room for the imagination, layering a spectrum of sustained notes and sound effects that keep the listener in orbit, building to tense crescendos only to subside and strip the intensity away again, sonically interpreting sensations of pressure and weightlessness. Ethereal vocals in the opening title track are a quiet (but not hesitant) start, then things get moving with the circuitry synth bleeps of the cosmic ‘Sputnick’. The rolling drum war cry of the single ‘Gargarin’ is a punctuation mark; when the theme from ‘Sputnick’ reoccurs in ‘E.V.A.’ and ‘Tomorrow’, there are echoes of the celestial Dark Side Of The Moon. Crackling white noise introduces hopelessness and loss to the historic retelling in the mournful, cello-led ‘Fire In The Cockpit’, listing the names of Apollo 1’s victims, whilst female pop duo Smoke Fairies provide a texture change on ‘Valentina’, celebrating the first woman in space with a touchable, acoustic human sound.
Yet The Race For Space is not short of what we now perceive as clichés. ‘Go!’ suffers from theatrical over-excitement, leaning on the positive, Hollywood version of the political conflict between two strong nations. Devoid of any Russian language samples, it trades in a commercialism that skirts the atmospheric edges of a Soviet perspective. It is, however, still ambitious enough to carry us off the face of the Earth with fresh drama, to check in with a range of our emotions, and leave us ever-gazing into unknown future wonders - and the ingenuity and potential of Public Service Broadcasting.