Music Reviews
Ha Ha Sound

Broadcast Ha Ha Sound

(Warp) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

No-one makes music like Broadcast; the strength of their aesthetic alone is to be commended in an era when cultural cross-pollination is in danger of diluting even the most individual talents. Their uniqueness even stretches back to their influences: whilst a list of most bands' spiritual forefathers predictably features the usual line-up (Pet Sounds, The Beatles, Eno, Rakim etc etc) the Birmingham 3-piece's year zero begins with the haunting psychedelia of Joseph Byrd's The United States of America, which is as admirable as plagiarism gets; after all, who else is making music as focussed and spectrally evocative as the songs on their last long-player, The Noise Made By People? The answer is, (as a nation of pale children collectively sighs), not Broadcast, unfortunately.

The title track of the Pendulum EP heralded not so much a bold stylistic renaissance as a complementary shift towards new areas for investigation. It sits better as one of the opening tracks than it did as a single, but such kraut-rock leanings are generally absent from the rest of the tracks (aside from the accelerating drum melee of Black Umbrellas); when they shift from familiar territory on Ha Ha Sound, Broadcast veer closer towards dark nursery rhymes (The Little Bell) and twisted, electronic carnival sambas (as on the entertainingly slight Distorsion). There is some pleasure to be gained from spotting the bizarre selection of tunes that they've ripped off, unconsciously or not: on opener Colour Me In, Petula Clark's Downtown lingers under the surface, whilst Valerie takes much of its melody from Little Drummer Boy. Even more entertaining is mishearing Trish singing on Man is Not a Bird (one of the better tracks, incidentally) that 'the fading light, was Barry White'; unfortunately the lyric sheet dispels any suspicions of clairvoyance concerning the walrus of love's recent demise (more's the pity).

While this is pleasantly distracting, you're probably more interested in knowing about the good songs on the album, and despite my earlier warnings of imminent disappointment, there are some on here. Six, to be precise, and if you're armed with the knowledge of the heights that Broadcast are capable of ascending to, you'll understand me when I say that I would buy the album again in an instant; like a box of chocolates, there are enough ones that you like in the selection, but, like a box of chocolates, once you've devoured all the best ones you're left clawing around the crap ones with the fading hope of finding something half decent (and I think I'd better quit this Forrest Gump-esque simile while I'm vaguely ahead. Thank you for your patience). Aside from Pendulum and Man is Not a Bird, Valerie is full of tender, dislocated reveries; Before We Begin is a ethereal wash of pure loveliness, and Winter Now's groggy awakening is subtly enchanting. However, the highlight is Ominous Cloud, where, after a patch of sub-standard tunes that leave you wanting, Broadcast bring everything together for a light, gently swaying space lullaby that brims with hope and regret in equal measures; such moments leave you longing for them to embrace their obvious pop sensibilities and jettison the wilfully obscure meanderings that often litter their releases.

After their first collection (Work and Non-Work) I was initially disappointed by The Noise Made By People, followed a few months later by a deeper appreciation of its icy minimalism. I've had Ha Ha Sound for a month now, and after countless listens I'm finding it harder and harder to resist the skip button. I imagine that, in time, it'll be one of those albums that I race through, picking out highlights, with some of the songs destined never to be heard again (as is undoubtedly the case with the hopelessly inane Oh How I Miss You). Ha Ha Sound is occasionally brilliant, often adequate and, on some tracks, so bizarrely irritating that the mind boggles at who Broadcast imagine would actually be interested in hearing them. So, in summation, an almost essential album of largely inessential tracks. Disappointed.