Release Date: Jul 7, 2017
Record label: PIAS
Ebbw Vale was one of many industrial towns at the heart of the South Wales valleys decimated by the purposeful and, in retrospect, almost unimaginable demolition of the coal industry during the 1980s. A village that thrived as work and community empowered generation after generation, the people of Ebbw Vale saw their livelihoods and future snatched from them as the lives they knew came to an abrupt end; a defined and consistent future replaced by uncertainty and poverty. Public Service Broadcasting's third album Every Valley takes Ebbw Vale as a microcosm; a case study that typifies and displays the consequences of the death of mining; it stretches that example out as a transparent telescopic layer through which it perhaps becomes easier to understand the results of inhumane policy when forced on working class people from a much broader range of geographical locations.
On 2015's The Race For Space, Public Service Broadcasting fuelled explorations of moon-age dreams with human currents of hope and dread. Two years on, the electro-pop now-a-trio redirect their conceptual microscopes to Welsh mining's rise and decline: more earthbound material, perhaps, but tackled with comparable evocative know-how. As ever with PSB, the match of astutely sourced samples and sounds to subject matter proves crucial.
Following their concept album dedicated to the space race, Public Service Broadcasting bring things back down to earth and then some with Every Valley, an emotionally and texturally rich record which digs into the history of the Welsh mining industry and reflects upon the legacy of deindustrialisation in Britain. Combining archive clips and interview snippets with a sweeping post-rock score, the band gives new meaning to the notion of aural history as they weave a loosely chronological narrative that charts the opening of the pits through to the miners' strike and the subsequent mass redundancies. Raw, harsh, mechanical - this is how music inspired by heavy industry typically sounds.
B y their own admission, as "middle-class Londoners", Public Service Broadcasting aren't obvious candidates to musically chronicle the rise and destruction of the Welsh coalmining industry. However, they have put a shift in: relocating to Ebbw Vale, conducting painstaking research and recording former miners' testimonies to set to music along with select historical narratives. Richard Burton powerfully describes "the arrogant strut of the lords of the coalface" and a 1970s television advert cheerily urges viewers: "Come on, be a miner! There's money and security!" There is no mention of the Aberfan disaster, Margaret Thatcher or Arthur Scargill, meaning that the political context is implied and the focus remains on the job and the communities.
Every Valley, Public Service Broadcasting's lush, sweeping ode to Welsh miners, sees far past the National Coal Board's touting of the industry's fantastical, misperceived longevity, and instead peers into the lives of a proud working class that lived and died by the dank tunnels in which they methodically toiled. The wildly shifting post-rock concept album documents the rise and fall of British coal mining, where many were highly dependent on the black rock for personal prosperity. When the need for coal began to diminish, and the resource ultimately tanked, economic instability and sadness followed.
London's Public Service Broadcasting are a sort of postmodern plunderphonic pop group who build songs around samples from old educational films and archival footage. Their sound isn't too far off from an imaginary collaboration between Negativland and Explosions in the Sky, but somehow it's more accessible than that description would suggest, and they've managed to become a phenomenon in their home country. Their albums have charted highly, and they've even opened for the Rolling Stones.
Our world is raised up and grounded by the sediment of history, of myriad moments, small and large, in which opposing forces have clashed and left shattered fragments, not the least of which are the bodies of human beings, in the deadzone between competing ideologies. Art awkwardly straddles this crust. Harold Macmillan's most famous comment, when asked what was most likely to blow a government off course ("Events, dear boy.
Public Service Broadcasting have their niche fully locked down by now, and it’s one that keeps giving and giving. From debut ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’ that dug up old propaganda recordings, to follow-up ‘The Race For Space’, a record significantly wider in scale, there’s an immersive quality to the band's compositions that few can match. “There’s more to mining than dust and dirt - much more,” a stern-voiced sample states in highlight ‘People Will Always Need Coal’, and third album ‘Every Valley’ takes the band’s probing investigations back to earth, and then underneath it.
Concept albums can understandably make the blood run cold, but Public Service Broadcasting have carved a new niche in the market over the last five years. By plundering the BFI archives for archive audio and video clips, they tell album-length tales of social history by invoking the authentic voices of the day and colliding them with the band's own electronic Krautrock. They have previously catalogued the early days of broadcasting and the Space Race, and now with album number three they turn their spotlight to the rise and fall of the industrial coal mining towns of South Wales.
ROCKS LIKE: Spoon, Radiohead, Tunng WHAT'S DIFFERENT: This U.K. prog-pop duo set aside cheeky nostalgia for at least one album to address a more serious topic: the rise and fall of the coal industry in Wales. A niche subject, to be sure, but one they bring emotional weight to through smart use of samples and guest vocalists like James Dean Bradfield (Manic Street Preachers) and Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura).