It’s impossible to believe that Broadcast’s Trish Keenan is no longer with us. Shockingly, she passed away on Friday after a two-week battle with pneumonia.
From the moment I heard Broadcast’s first EP, The Book Lovers, I was hooked on their fractal pop, even if my initial impression of them was “Stereolab-lite.” (How wrong I was.)
The group gained strength with each release, creating music that was at once brazenly experimental and multidimensional, containing worlds upon worlds of influences in an evocative framework of puzzlebox lyrics and kitchen-sink psychedelia. Cinematic and sweeping, their songs were also dramatic and poignant, thanks to Keenan’s incisive lyrics and heartwrenchingly pure voice.
Writing a tribute for webzine Caught by the River, St. Etienne’s Bob Stanley wrote,
“As attuned to pop and melody as she was to experimentalism, Trish wrote some beautiful lyrics: ‘Come On Let’s Go’ is a declaration of romantic independence (‘what’s the point in wasting time on people that we’ll never know?’); ‘Tears In The Typing Pool’ is a small town, small romance break up song of terrible sadness (‘The letters are sighing, the ink is still drying/I told you the truth and now I sigh too’); ‘Before We Begin’ an inspiring manifesto of winking hope (‘So here we are again, back to the beginning/So the salt will spill again, throw it over your shoulder’).”
Keenan’s honeyed vocals were always the calm point at the center of Broadcast’s kaleidoscopic, fragmented pop. Like their beloved Czech films from the 1960s (Valerie and Her Week of Wondersand Milos Forman’s Loves of a Blonde were particular touchstones, as was Hammer horror and British children’s television), their music was constantly engaged in a push-pull against convention.
For Keenan, psychedelia had a kind of utopian power. In 2009, she told The Wire’s Joseph Stannard,
“That’s what makes bands like The United States of America special: they represent for me a better 60s, one without sexism or racism, It always seems as though music is ahead of political correctness, or social thought.”
The Britain of her formative years, the 80s, was horrifically hidebound.
“I discovered psychedelia and it seemed to have self-help properties that allowed me to let go of an immobilizing working class pride that was cementing a false identity in my psyche, stopping me from transforming.”
Broadcast began as a five-piece and eventually settled on the core duo of Trish and James Cargill. Moving from Birmingham to the British countryside helped cement their roots in British folk traditions. Their work became increasingly curatorial, drawing on myriad influences to fascinating effect. Their final release, 2009’s Broadcast & the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age (Warp), hinted at an equally tantalizing future —one that will, sadly, never come to pass.
Broadcast & the Focus Group, “Love’s Long Listen-in” (from Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, 2009)