Broadcast: Until Then
ife being what it is, one dreams of revenge - Paul Gauguin
There’s rage in the air these days, a feeling of being cheated and outnumbered, of Them being unjust in their dealings with Us. It’s an open question, never to be solved, as to whether that makes these days different from any other, but it’s there nevertheless. All over the globe humans eat, sleep, work, play, die, shit, fuck, create, destroy, and generally scrabble in the dirt for whatever they think will make their lives greater, and it’s near impossible sometimes to not want to just punch a wall at the way that humanity just cannot get its shit together.
So what are you doing about it? Because I’ll tell you right now, I’m doing fucking nothing about it. I’m worrying about getting a job now that I’ve graduated from university, and I’m trying to keep up with my various work, social and hobby-related obligations, and I’m cursing the heat and trying to buy a fan so I can sit at my computer and type without sweating too much, and I’m worrying about the crap I eat and I’m trying to find enough time to spend with my girlfriend and my friends, and I’m wondering whether to go back to school, and I’m wondering how the days pass so quickly. And you’re probably all doing something similar. That’s the not-so-secret of how They, if it is They and not Us, get away with it: Life is busy.
And so sometimes it’s easy to feel, when you think about it, that we don’t deserve a properly working world, where it’s not easier just to screw other people over, where you don’t have to work so hard to be a good person. Because damnit, we’ve got this paper due and this project at work and we haven’t gone grocery shopping yet, and shit I didn’t do the dishes and now it’s 2 in the morning…
While there is a soul in prison, I am not free - Eugene Debs
“Until Then” starts off with the mournful sound of what could be musical saws waltzing. It’s a thin, keening but strangely rich noise. They just keep seesawing back and forth, and when Trish Keenan starts singing her voice is like a cavern:
If you think nothing is yours
And if I think everything belongs to me
How wrong I’ll be;
None of us have anything
She sounds sad, tinged with knowing regret. The song sounds sad, especially when the quiet mangled fuzz-guitar starts up late in the song, coming in at the wrong moment, and dancing those waltzers out the door, quiet almost horns swelling and then the scraped negative of the track flitting back out of earshot. On a purely sound-design level it’s a great song, a little spooky and redolent of something much bigger than it actually, on inspection, is. My interpretation of “Until Then” may be a stretch to you, but to me I’m not pulling these words or music into a shape I like, I’m telling you what shape they seemed to me when I first heard them, those words in the context of that sound.
Trish Keenan sounds sad, and the song feels sad, and it’s sad because it’s a bright new possible future, slowly, mournfully sweeping away from us because we haven’t the brains or the decency or the nerve to reach out and grab it. It’s sad because it’s one of those science fiction movies where aliens “invade” and we fight back, only to discover too late that they were peaceful creatures who were trying to communicate, beings who would have changed our lives if not for our irrationality and hatred and sour fear. It’s sad because it’s the admission that we’ve fucked it up, all of us, and that, at the same time, it’s hard to blame yourself for just getting through another day, week, month, year. It’s wrong to think nothing is yours. It’s wrong to think everything is yours. And it keeps happening. And we all keep allowing it to happen.
Our history is an incredible litany of short-sightedness, unintended consequences, brutality, incompetence, poor luck and disastrous timing, but that only makes it more heartbreakingly glorious that we haven't given up yet - Glenn McDonald
But the song doesn’t say all that, not out right; songs like this aren’t good at bald statements of fact, anyway, they do better at evoking a feeling. And although it does all that, it doesn’t judge. It just gradually dances away, because it can’t stay here. That future we’re reaching for, it would like to be here. It would like to see us live up to our potential. But it can’t force us to do so, nothing can. Our tragedy and our glory is that we have to do it by ourselves, and yet we all have to do it. It’s just some of us pull ourselves up on the backs of others, well… you can see where it’s gotten us.
There are only three more lines in “Until Then”:
There’s a place I have never explored
Another world we have yet to conquer
And until then none of us have anything
That other world is the one of all our frustrated potential, of every utopian ambition before it curdles into nightmare, of every one of our noblest impulses. We may never get there. But until we do, it’s getting harder and harder to remember that we have anything. I can’t really decide whether “Until Then” helps to remember or not, is wonderful or monstrous, encouraging or enervating, whether I should destroy all copies I own or listen to it weekly, but I’ve been playing it for five years now. And maybe it’s a good idea to have something around that gives you the tang of unrealized dreams, a hint of potential. It’s fitting that Broadcast, a band who always seemed to inhabit one of the broken-off dead futures imagined by past generations, brings it to us. Maybe this future isn’t as dead as it looks, and maybe just as there’s always a glimmer of emotion in Keenan’s seemingly narcotized voice, maybe there’s a glimpse of hope in the middle of all that regret.