Coupled with their sometimes astral proclivities and the fact the last time I tripped over Public Service Broadcasting – literally – was on the island of Skye, one has high hopes indeed for this latest offering. And broadly, they are met. As always, there is a method behind the slightly eccentric madness and this time, it’s Wales. Why the hell not? You can’t fault them for lack of creativity. You get male voice choirs, Richard Burton, coal and, naturally, public service broadcasts on Every Valley. It’s safe to say that’s unlikely to be an overmined theme in 2017 and for that alone, they are to be commended.
That the band manage to turn along this unlikely avenue yet still sound like themselves is a testament to some kind of greatness. The sense of otherness that’s a hallmark of their output is present and correct. Tracks like ‘Go To The Road‘ manage to be warm, organic and even comforting. But those muffled vocal samples and sweeping synths – so often used on previous releases – swirl around to dizzying effect. It’s intoxicating stuff and really quite unique to Public Service Broadcasting. They manage to sound like no one else, be serious yet jolly and somehow pretty out there yet strangely familiar and unthreatening. An unusual talent, for sure.
Perhaps the highlight comes early with ‘The Pit‘. Great big honking brass sounds on a louche groove whilst a chap teaches you the intricacies of, well, the pit. Mines were pretty much bound to feature on an album influenced by the valleys and getting what sounds like snippets from a coal-faced documentary into a sparkling tune is confusing but impressive.
Perhaps, as you’d expect from a record taking a decimated industry and community as its inspiration, things are not all sweetness and light. A sampled vocal snippet may suggest, “You’ll discover the excitement of going underground…there will always be something new“, but, like that way of life itself, things do take a darker turn. Indeed the melody on ‘People Will Always Need Coal‘ (in which that sample appears) – a bittersweet title in itself – dissolves into a somewhat angry but beautiful lament. Even while scratchy guitars make the hips wiggle, there is that darkness. God knows what a retired miner in the Rhondda would make of it but it’s damned creative.
Perhaps what stops any review or mark going stratospheric is simply that one comes to expect rather expert goings on from the band. Every Valley is every bit as good as you expect it to be, no more no less. Hardly their fault they produce such consistent material but, whilst it’s perhaps clutching at straws, you sense there is an absolute masterpiece in Public Service Broadcasting. Whilst this album is excellent, it’s not quite that.
Every Valley is touching and emotional but also a soaring and groovy record. Taking its leave with a simple male voice choir on ‘Take Me Home‘, you’re left wondering exactly what the hell you’ve just listened to. These ears enjoy it very much and confirm J. Willgoose, Esq et al as a band never likely to do the predictable. Enjoy it for the delicious and hugely danceable grooves or delve further and consider its source material and what will become of that. Compelling stuff.