Broadcast – Tender Buttons

Tender Buttons

I don’t have a kind history with electro music. In the past, I held my nose raised high to anything in the genre that didn’t contain the words “stereo” and “lab” placed together. Perhaps it was that the music has a tendency to feel too cold and a bit too “fake” for my tastes. Fortunately, over the past year and a half, I’ve grown out of this viewpoint and gotten a bit cozy with drum machines, synthesizers, and vocals ranging anywhere from the distressingly robotic to the hopelessly dreamy. The latter brings me to Broadcast, an electro band I found myself indulging in frequently due to a noteworthy debut album and strong follow-up.

The band sprung up in 1995 with five members, but as of the release of Tender Buttons, it is stripped down to two. Even without this knowledge, the album quickly gives evidence to something missing to anyone familiar with Broadcast, as it feels sparse in comparison to the direction the group seemed to be following with the release of Haha Sound. This album is much less rhythm- and harmony-oriented; layers of texture are absent, and in their place are repetitive synth lines, ho-hum drum beats and, most adversely, oft-obtrusive noise.

The near-angelic voice of Trish Keenan wants to peacefully drift the listener off to a happier place, but persistent disappointment ensues as jarring racket offers far too stark a contrast in nearly every offering. A rare exception rests in the album’s single, “America’s Boy,” in which the noise compliments Keenan’s astral voice as she vaguely celebrates America’s soldier, or so one can only speculate since the words are not always easy to decipher. Nearly cryptic most of the time, the lyrics serve a much stronger aesthetic purpose than can be said of their literal use. The songs on the record have a tendency to run together and ultimately sound alike, one of Tender Buttons most damning qualities. Two atypical tracks stuck in the middle of the album, “Tears in the Typing Pool” and “Evil is Coming,” offer a break from the raucous electro-pop found elsewhere, yet both are horrendously underdeveloped, nearly to the point of frustration with a listener. As tempting as it is to fall in love with this album, it offers its own flaws so plainly that difficulty is had in not noticing what is missing or what lies extraneous.

To its credit, the album does manage to provide a few interesting moments, often in spite of itself and its boisterous qualities. There are times when melody shines through the noisy haze of electronics to provide a rather comforting sensation. Commendable is the album’s ability to straddle the line between electro music and ambient pop, a trait gleefully apparent through headphones. Unfortunately, what the album does right doesn’t set it free from its shortcomings.

The album plays itself out as a less enjoyable Stereolab outing, from the there-but-not-too-there guitars to the sexy-smooth female vocals, but something just isn’t present. A healthy dose of listenability mixed with some old-fashioned, practical variety, perhaps? It may be a good idea for the remaining members to rethink the state of the band and maybe enlist musicians to take the place of those now missing.