Public Service Broadcasting – ‘Every Valley’ album review

I had a something like an epiphany during the triumphant Public Service Broadcasting live in-store event at Rough Trade Nottingham last night.

The thing they do, in case you don’t know, which you most likely do, but I shall write about it anyway, since that is the whole point of this, is that they fuse crackly voiced sampled dialogue from historical / field recordings with tight, focussed swathes of softcore kraut / indie / post rock instrumentals featuring guitar, bass, drums & electronics.

The reason I needed an epiphany is because up until last night, PSB have provoked a weird reaction in me. I would listen with half a sneer; I was the person walking round the art gallery, sniffing and telling anyone who would listen that my EIGHT year old could do that, with her hands tied to the floor. I saw them perform at Bluedot Festival in 2016, an awesome setting and a great performance, but my brain kept saying ‘dude, you could do this…’

What’s odd about that is that I have always been irritated by that attitude when I encounter it in others, but I seem to lack the vocabulary or understanding necessary to articulate why and then I do it myself! Brains, eh!

Last night, I realised that the same response I would give to the person sniffing in the gallery applies here, too – “maybe your daughter SHOULD do it! Go ahead and help her!” Maybe I should! Or maybe it isn’t about me! PSB *are* doing it and that tops ‘could’ every time! What a show they put on. I’d recommend catching them live to anyone. A rare treat to see (well, hear, I was at the back for reasons I won’t go into, but if you know, you know:) ) them play in such a small venue and I want to shout out to Rough Trade Nottingham once again – we are lucky to have you bringing culture and art to our city. I shall continue to support what you do as much as I am able and I hope you continue to your success. Exciting times.

When I first read of JWillgoose’s intention to follow up ‘The Race For Space’ (I don’t count live or remix albums because they don’t count)  with a reflection on the decline of industrial coal mining in Wales, I was sceptical that it was their story to tell, or that it could be made in any way interesting or relevant or even as exciting as their previous work. On listening, I’m proven wrong on all counts.

‘Every Valley’ kind of redefines the term authenticity – peppered with the words of people involved in the region & industry, this isn’t a simple rehash of ‘The Race for Space’ with different subject matter. Instead, you get a studious, melancholic but ultimately uplifting rumination on the plight of a group of real life human beings facing real life problems with grace and dignity. This record deliberately avoids being a political or angry commentary; there’s plenty to say about the coal mining industry that has already been said, and so PSB don’t feel the need to regurgitate, instead they flank the popular angle and dive right into the heart of the Ebbw Valley to literally make their record there.

The great spiritual relationship between music and location in action once again.

Could it be that the choir in ‘Take Me Home’, the album closer, get forgotten about in all the righteous anger around there being no public inquiry relating to Orgreave? It’s easy to be angry and write about that, and perhaps far more difficult to engage, to meet the people affected, hear them sing, give them a context and platform then let 2017 do the rest.

I love the way this album works with the anger and resentment of the subject matter without being angry or resentful. Simply put, it is not an anti-Thatcher LP. It’s quite a trick, a brave one and a clever one, to let the obvious remain unsaid and be all the more powerful as a result, with sweet rushes of melancholy brass accompanying driving swathes of Kraut rhythm, the threesome spit tight and focussed musicianship along with tantalising snippets of hopeless, desperately sad Orwellian dialogue:

“Machines will do the heavy work, and men will supervise the machines. You owe much to these machines! Horsepower, not manpower!”

I found this sample, from the beautiful ‘They Gave Me A Lamp’ especially close to home:

“Politics is life and everything to do with it affects you directly or indirectly…”

‘Every Valley’ is a bucolic, nostalgic, rousing, pastoral and heartfelt and moving tribute to lost ways of life that never lapses into weekend-family-museum-trip dull, with elegant samples and deft arrangements. But what’s more is that this story is still so relevant – this could be nurses, this could be fire services, the nature of democracy and socialism and what it means to be a citizen, these are all timeless subjects, and this record stands tall as a monument to how art and society lean on each other, celebrate each other through tough times. Pray that nobody has to make this record about you and yours in 30 years time, but they might have to – this is how the world is designed and you should hope that there are souls as beautiful as these three around to do it for you then.

Just watch this video and then tell me in the comments how they didn’t tell a vital and moving story in a pitch-perfect way. Take your smug accusations of cultural appropriation or relevance and step away from the keyboard – look at the face of that guy getting ready to sing, someone cares about me, will my pacemaker be a problem for the recording? It didn’t feel like appropriation to him and it doesn’t to me, either.

I enjoyed Luke Turner’s Quietus review of ‘Every Valley’. He’s the bloke walking round the Saatchi gallery, loudly declaring that his kid could have done better. It’s a big, big world, and there’s always room for art, whatever it is, whatever the subject matter, Luke can be angry, that’s art, too, I love Supersilent as much as I love this, maybe this record isn’t for everyone, but imagine how it feels to the people they did do it for.

Anyone who finds this record a toothless because it does not resort to histrionics to reinforce the message is missing the point and I say to them – play it again and listen more carefully; this is an album about the the power and pride of the disenfranchised underclass, the literal sound of a man explaining why he got out of bed in the morning and went to work despite all the reasons he might not. ‘Every Valley’ might shy away from being overtly political, but it’s a far more barbed and powerful statement precisely for that reason.

“We all thought we’d be there for the rest of our lives. But of course, it didn’t turn out like that…” 

That could be you. It could be me. It was them. This is a story that everyone should to hear. A history of people who everyone should be proud of. A travesty, a betrayal that everyone should still be angry about. Let everyone hear, let everyone understand what politics is and what it is not, and then let art and beauty and love and understanding win in the end. What a beautiful, brave and intelligent band they are; it takes something I will never have to achieve what JFAbraham, Wrigglesworth & JWillgoose, esq have in such an elegant and restrained manner.

Make sure you catch them live, they’ll charm the pants off you.

Buy the record and find tour dates at https://publicservicebroadcasting.net/ see you at the Rock City show in October 🙂

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