oday’s guitars can use lighter-weight materials, stay in tune longer, and transmit signals with less distortion than before. Musicians? Not having it. Rock music continues to develop, but rock musicians want their guitars to sound like it hasn’t. That’s why most guitar technology “advancements” in the last 40 years have been made with the aim of reproducing sounds made by 1960s/1970s era instruments.
Hardcore synth-heads will be loath to admit it, but their situation isn’t that much different, perhaps with the born-on date moved forward a decade or two. Musicians who trade heavily in synthesizers tend to place a greater premium on being technologically savvy, but most synthesizer technology—greater effects processing, more powerful oscillators—have by and large been aimed at reproducing nascent Moog experiments and early stabs at disco and electronic music.
None of this is meant to lionize Broadcast, who have made better use of the synthesizer over the last eight years than just about anyone on the planet. Many of their best tracks—see the recent “Arc of a Journey”—incorporate little else. Broadcast is seen primarily as a “retro” band, in that they try and re-create the bliss and naiveté of 60s psychedelic music, and this is probably unfair. Broadcast have done an enviable job of employing synthesizers in creative ways in a (mostly) pop-inspired context. Like synthesizers themselves, Broadcast seem intent on making worthwhile advances using tools grounded in the past.
This much is readily apparent on Future Crayon, a set of b-sides and rarities covering Broadcast’s output prior to 2003’s Ha Ha Sound. Spark, strut, and influence: Broadcast has them all in spades, and that means that while Future Crayon never coalesces into a coherent story, it’s still a boon for those who haven’t religiously collected the band’s singles and EPs.
The earliest tracks here—“Hammer Without a Master” from a 1998 Warp compilation and “Test Area” from a 1999 single—are assured, pleasurable romps, even if they’re both slightly formless. It’s the sound of a young band filling wax, however creatively, undoubtedly saving bullets for the LPs. Tellingly, the best material is culled from the Pendulum EP, which preceded Ha Ha Sound in 2003. “Still Feels Like Tears” tight, pestering beat contrasts with the spacier pieces that comprise much of the band’s first releases. The Neu homage “DDL,” from an All Tomorrow’s Parties comp, parades reliably, its motor interrupted by glitchy palpitations.
Roughly half the material is from The Noise Made by People period, and it’s the toughest sell: mostly wordless, indulgent tracks like “Chord Simple” and “A Man for Atlantis” aren’t totally joyless, but they sound worthy of their b-sides and rarities status. Only the fuzz-pop of “Illumination” and the ghostly echo of “Distant Call” would subject the band’s choices for Noise to second-guessing.
The sequencing—which disperses tracks from each release amongst one another—makes a game effort to charm a fulfilling song cycle out of Future Crayon; valiant, no doubt, but there are too many breaks and inconsistencies, and any emotional takeaway is trampled by the contrasts between Broadcast’s influence-indebted Noise period and their unique and outstanding recent incarnations. Meaty and encompassing, Future Crayon rarely misses, even if it fails to measure up to the band’s sublime full-lengths.