Describing their latest offering, Broadcast lead singer Trish Keenan says Tender Buttons is “a solar system of songs”. An apt description for an album that takes you to another planet with a sonic soundscape lent from Stereolab, but developed to be distinctly Broadcast.
The CD is the Birmingham band’s first full-length release since 2003’s Haha Sound and the first since the departure of Tim Felton, leaving just Keenan and James Cargill. With Felton gone so are the complex drum structures which have been a feature of the band’s past work, being replaced by more electronic backdrops and sparsely used drum machines.
The album starts in fine style with the psychedelic I Found The F, a song with clear ’60s influences – a texture promoted by Keenan’s deadpan yet dreamy lyrical style, which is spoken in sections on the opener.
The multi-layered Black Cat meanwhile is pure Stereolab. There is so much going on at the same time during this track with its distorted crackly electronica, driving hypnotic beat and a melodic tune which will have you tapping your fingers as Keenan sings of the “Black cat getting curiouser and curiouser”.
Haunting title track Tender Buttons creates an image of Keenan in the role of a witch stirring her pot while concocting a spell, while the album’s first single, America’s Boy lifts the tempo back up again.
The standout track on the collection however must surely be Tears In The Typing Pool. A truly beautiful song about a girl who has just written a heartfelt letter ending a relationship, it is the most stripped down song on the album and showcases Keenan’s angelic voice perfectly.
After that, Corporeal passes by without really making an impression as does the repetitive Bit 35, the first of two short instrumental tracks which serve the roles of commercial breaks. The second of these, the deceivingly named Evil Is Coming, offers a pleasant floaty sound worlds away from the crunching electronica prominent elsewhere.
Arc Of A Journey is another song with a spacey feel to it, transporting you from one planet in that solar system of songs to another. Amongst a cascade of beeps and whirly sounds, Keenan sings of the “constellation of Orion” being “repositioned like the post-atomic line”. It couldn’t get more astrological if Patrick Moore released an album of xylophone ditties.
The bouncy Michael A Grammar is definite single material, while the tempo drops once more for the droning Subject To The Ladder and Goodbye Girls is another song muddled with a mass of muffled electronica, this time with a seedy subject matter. Penultimate track You And Me In Time has a slow meandering menacing feel to it, perhaps the contemplations of a stalker, before the album drifts away with the eerie I Found The End.
One of the finest exports from the consistently high-quality conveyor-belt that is Warp Records, Broadcast have produced arguably their finest moment and an album that is like a spaceship full of peaceful aliens landing in your garden and taking you on a cruise around the galaxy.