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Public Service Broadcasting - Bright Magic (Album Review)

Monday, 27 September 2021 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: Alex Lake

In crafting Public Service Broadcasting’s fourth album, J. Willgoose Esq. left London behind and sauntered off to Berlin, and ‘Bright Magic’ is certainly a product of its environment. Fascinated by the German capital's near-mythical status as a creative space, he sought to write a collection “about the city and its history”.

But there’s more to it than that. Here Public Service Broadcasting’s sound has been reshaped, with their go-to musical elements shuffled to mixed effect. Renowned for their use of samples, they now take a back seat, although Willgoose did seek to capture currents and interference from where the first electrical street lights adorned the city.​ 

The lasting impression of the album is one of electronic instrumentals with only a few guest lyricists (including Bad Seeds legend Blixa Bargeld on the robotic Der Rhythms Der Maschinen) adding a vocal element. Glitzy opener Im Licht is a slow burn synth symphony, appearing after the intro Der Sumpf (Sinfonie Der Groẞstadt). 

Then we have the Lichtspiel trilogy, moving from background music beginnings to an instrumental you might actually want to take notice of before a lengthy wind-down after the slightly more engaging middle section. The Visitor, meanwhile, sounds suspiciously like an electronic version of the hymn Jerusalem.

Closing track Ich Und Die Stadt (featuring Nina Hoss) is perhaps the oddest of the bunch, though. The largely instrumental effort is extremely soothing but as such it feels like the type of relaxation music that you could (almost) fall asleep to in a health spa.

The heart of the record is completely at odds with its largely instrumental outer core, with the best tracks noticeably featuring prominent vocal contributions. People, Let’s Dance and Gib Mir Das Licht both feature Eera, and the former is a ready-made disco belter, its irresistible beat and melody are hideously catchy. The latter is the opposite—a light, subtle, beautifully sung piece of soothing reflection with saxophone adding a touch of smooth elegance. Sandwiched between Eera’s two contributions is the excellent Blue Heaven, featuring Andreva Casablanca. Mixing German and English vocals, it is a moment of pop perfection.

Recording ‘Bright Magic’ at the legendary Hansa Studios, where so many classics were born, assists in creating its ‘Berlin soul’, with David Bowie’s ‘Low’ a particular reference point. You can hear a similar level of electronic experimentation here and there, but in the main ‘Bright Magic’ has its own identity. Without question, though, the record’s standout moments all feature vocals, which may detract somewhat from its creator’s own perceptions of the piece.

Public Service Broadcasting Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun October 24 2021 - CARDIFF University Great Hall
Mon October 25 2021 - BRIGHTON Dome
Tue October 26 2021 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Wed October 27 2021 - EXETER Great Hall
Thu October 28 2021 - SOUTHAMPTON O2 Guildhall
Sat October 30 2021 - AYLESBURY Waterside Theatre
Sun October 31 2021 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Mon November 01 2021 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Tue November 02 2021 - LLANDUDNO Venue Cymru
Thu November 04 2021 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Fri November 05 2021 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 City Hall
Sat November 06 2021 - ABERDEEN Music Hall
Sun November 07 2021 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Tue November 09 2021 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Wed November 10 2021 - LONDON O2 Brixton Academy
Thu November 11 2021 - CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange
Wed January 19 2022 - BELFAST Limelight
Thu January 20 2022 - DUBLIN Olympia
Fri January 21 2022 - CORK Cypress Avenue

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