Top 10 Broadcast Songs

Broadcast Perform At Southbank Centre In London
Redferns / Getty Images

Broadcast were a British electronic act who found a fervent cult following for their outsider-pop experiments with analog keyboards and samples, topped off with the beautiful, slightly-eerie voice of Trish Keenan. After releasing the brilliant 2000 LP The Noise Made by People, they moved into more experimental realms, including collaborations with collage artist The Focus Group. The 2011 Keenan death brought the band to an abrupt, tragic close, but they left behind an impressive body of work.

of 10

"The Book Lovers"

Broadcast Perform At Southbank Centre In London
Redferns / Getty Images

Broadcast's second-ever single —initially issued in 1996 on Stereolab's Super Duophonic 45s imprint— was the one that singled them out as a budding band fully capable of greatness. And, with its insistent organ riff, rattling drums, and Mellotron strings, it managed to summon the '60s —and the futurist experiments of oddballs like the United States of America— without sounding like second-hand nostalgia. I remember seeing Broadcast perform it on MTV UK's Alternative Nation (in a fleeting mid-'90s-era when the Toby Amies-hosted show was a true repository of audio discovery), and being instantly enraptured by this unknown band. Gladly, it was the start of a long affair...

of 10

"Lights Out"

The final song on

Work and Non Work

—the 1997 compilation of early singles that was Broadcast's first full-length release— is about departures; Keenan's central tale of a traveling brother, and the public farewells at the airport, being a symbol to study what 'leaving' actually entails. For all its cute sibling references ("my brother's back off holiday/he's been chasing girls in Spain"), the song is about the feeling of absence when someone departs; when a brother steps on a plane, or a lover leaves a bedroom in the morning. The song's refrain, "turn the lights out when you're leaving," becomes not some friendly farewell, but an acceptance of imminent darkness.

of 10

"Echo's Answer"

The first single from the masterful The Noise Made by People arrived in the dying months of 1999, sounding like a missive from the uncertain future around the corner. Arriving a year before Kid A laid claim on re-wired musical terrain, "Echo's Answer" felt like a sonar shot fired out into the void. The song was stark, strange, eerie, elusive, and staggering beautiful: a handful of organ chords, a sinuous pitch-shifting string part, and ripples of digital manipulation ricocheting across a resounding void of silence. Keenan's carefully-enunciated lyrics take place on a mountain-top; the singer listening to the wind gust and die, the echoes of a valley a drone whirring eternal.

of 10

"Until Then"

"There's a place I have never explored," Keenan sings, with a voice equal parts sweet and sinister, "another world we have yet to conquer." These open-to-interpretation words took on a shivering resonance after the singer's tragic death; the tune's bizarre soundscape —riff built on semi-discordant string samples of no specific origin, perhaps even played on a Mellotron— now teetering eerily on the brink between life and death. Beyond its haunted opening, "Until Then" builds into one of Broadcast's more dramatic-sounding songs, swelling with noisy volume until suddenly cutting off at a crescendo, and plunging into strange void on close. Years later, it was beautifully, faithfully covered by Orcas in tribute to Keenan.

of 10

"Come On Let's Go"

One of Broadcast's warmest, most accessible, best-known tunes —a groovy number that summons the mythological swingin' '60s in warm organs, big drums, and Spector reverb— features some of Keenan's sharpest, most pointed lyrics. Not least of which is its repeated, rhetorical refrain "what's the point in wasting time/on people that you'll never know?"; a piece of prime life advice delivered in pop-song form. As it literally seems to be about ditching a high-falutin'-yet-ultimately-empty party, the sentiment is clear valentine from one to another, delivered with equal parts reproach, support, and utter devotion. "When everybody's disappeared/you won't be alone," Keenan sings, and it's hard not to imagine that Cargill, her partner in both life and band, is the intended recipient.

of 10

"Unchanging Window/Chord Simple"

Initially released on the

Extended Play Two
The Future Crayon
Noise Made by People

era was. Where a lesser band would build an entire album around something this expansive, exploratory, and evolutionary, Broadcast struggled to find a proper home for it. Where the band's better works often found them at their most collagey or studio-centric, "Unchanging Window/Chord Simple" sounds very much like a band jamming; in the best possible sense. Keenan's lyrics detail, over buzzy modular synths and jazzy percussion, the attempt to capture ephemeral sadness for artistic inspiration; and, from there, the song stretches out long and lingering, as if attempting to inhabit the feeling.

of 10

"Oh How I Miss You"

In text, it doesn't come out as much: 77 seconds in which five words are repeated endlessly, over a simple piano-and-drum-loop motif. But to say that "Oh How I Miss You" is more than the sum of its parts is flagrant understatement, as no moment in the band's busy discography may initially seem so minor, yet prove so major. If I'm in a fightin' mood, I may even argue this is Broadcast's greatest song: hearing Keenan, in a doleful drone, carol "Oh, how I miss you" endlessly —multi-tracked vocals growing thicker, fuzzier, more layered, more profound with each lap around the lyric— is akin to submitting to an incantation; a spell laced with the most potent musical magic.

of 10

"Tears in the Typing Pool"

Like "Oh How I Miss You," this is another study in glorious, beauteous simplicity. The standout song from 2005's

Tender Buttons

, sets Keenan's soft, double-tracked, effects-fuzzed singing to a spartan arrangement of bashful acoustic guitar, gurgling Wurlitzer, and tinges of transient noise. There's an elegance to it, a timelessness and classicism that makes it stand apart from Broadcast's usual brand of retrofuturism. The song hangs heavy with two weighty metaphors —a long-distance runner reaching the end of the race; a typist writing a letter interpreting their surrounds— that describe Keenan watching her father die from a terminal illness; she writing words —coming up with a song— in commemoration of "the end of you and me."

of 10

"Elegant Elephant"

"Elegant Elephant" is, truly, about an elephant; a mantelpiece trinket recounted in language of stunning simplicity —"sentimental ornament/enamel animal... elegant elephant/emotional element"— and filled with symbolic profundity. It's a Proustian madeline in pachyderm form, unfolding into the "pretend worlds" and "make-believe" and the "magic that exists in the past, but not your past" and "the past as a place to draw from," all things that Keenan spoke about with me, thoughtfully, mere months before her death. Late-period Broadcast was about disappearing into dreamlike soundworlds, and "Elegant Elephant" did so with reverent tenderness.

of 10

"The Be Colony"

If "Elegant Elephant" took on the warmer, more sentimental side of memories, childhoods, and the artifacts of experience, "The Be Colony" journeyed into the more mystical, sinister reaches of fanciful imaginary realms; the shadowy side of the subconscious. "You are going backwards to a child to the death of rebirth," Keenan carols, in a song whose lyrics sway like a swinging watch. "All circles vanish, vanish, vanish," Keenan intones, and it feels like counting backwards into hypnosis. "The Be Colony" was the most Broadcast-y song on their collaborative, collagist LP

Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

, ann album heavily under the influence of the primitive mid-century experiments of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.