Sometimes we miss albums when they are released and only find out about them later here at ATTIWLTMOWOS; to be fair to us with the sheer amount of albums, singles and EP's released in week (let alone in a year) makes it really hard to review every records that we would like to review. I got pointed in the direction of the second album by London based duo J. Willgoose and Wrigglesworth, it was released in February 2015 and last year it made a lot of end of year's polls. One of my friends has been badgering me to take a look at this and here we are almost three months later I am finally able to review it. The subject matter of the album the Space race that was fought between the United States of America and the U.S.S.R. as they engaged in a tit for tat battle to dominate the world and take everyone's attention for their real world issues. The events are not in noted in chronological order, it uses samples from the British Film Institute which are added to instrumental tracks, creating a strange and abstract album of historical fact and a brand of rock that is usually the realm of Mogwai. But how does the album measure up to my tastes, have I missed a new instant classic or is my friend Mark barking up the wrong tree?
"The Race for Space" starts with a sample of the speech given US President John F. Kennedy at Rice Stadium, Houston, Texas where he was addressing Rice University in 1962 about the Nations efforts to reach space (aka the 'We choose to go to the Moon' speech). It was one of his addresses to the general public to raise up the budget to get a man on the moon. It has a choir and gentle synth work in the background. The focus is the speech, focusing on the works of JFK and the grand statement of intent. It is an interesting piece of work, setting the tone of the album and introducing the subject clearly to the listener. The second track is called "Sputnik" and the launch of the first satellite Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union in 1957, using various news samples about one of the most important events to have happened in the advancement of the human race at that point (or one of the most criminal pieces depending on your religious leanings). It is a slow and steady piece that builds up with a sound similar to the actual sound that was transmitted by Sputnik 1 to the Earth. It is a song that builds on a central theme and it takes time to get to its various peaks that litter the song. It is a beautiful piece of work with euphoria emotions and fantastic samples of news reels of the day. At first before I realised what was going on, I thought it was just a nice piece of post-rock; but the more you listen to the tune, the more you discover about the song and it’s over all place in the album and it is a beautiful piece of music. "Gagarin" focuses on the events concerning the launch of Vostok 1 and the first human being placed in space. This honour went to Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut who completed the first space flight by a human being which was obvious a big step for us as a species, but a bigger victory for the U.S.S.R. in the eyes of the world. The music itself is a faster paced, it has a horns section going through which gives the music the necessary excitement as we heard the words of the new readers and Yuri Gagarin himself coming from beyond our atmosphere. It has that positive edge and celebrative tone which was required to show the joy that would have been going through the world (even on the side of the Americans). It is a tune that manages to convey this sense from many years ago into the present, it is a great song.
The fourth track is the sombre "Fire in the Cockpit" which deals with the Apollo 1 mission, where astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward H. White II & Roger B. Chaffee where killed during an accident when they were practising for the launch that never happened. There is no music as such, it is mostly static and the odd synth added for atmosphere and the news report playing over the sound, relaying the events. It is a strange piece, but considering the original subject matter it is entirely appropriate; it is also a song that the band have not played live, due to the subject matter. "E.V.A." follows on and we are now following the first spacewalk which took place during the Voskhod 2 mission and was conducted by Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov who is describing what is happening as he enters the void; the translation being spoke over the excited Russian who is talking about the wonder that he is talking about the experience that is happening to him. The music is very psychedelic on this track, it reminds me a lot of Zombi and their recent work, it is also one of the few tracks on the album that seems to be held back slightly. It does not reach the heights of others on the album, but in saying that it is still a very good track when considered in the whole body of the record. The second third of this album ends with "The Other Side" which focuses on the events of Apollo 8 - the first visit to the Moon which was completed by the Americans. It is an uplifting song; it has such a positive tone to the music which gives the listener an uplifting feeling. The sound clips taken from Mission Control & Apollo 8 as they around the Dark Side of the moon is handled brilliantly, the music is lowered as the silence of the mission is awaiting the crew to contact them again. The music has that sense of tension that would have been evident in the room as they were waiting for the astronauts to regain contact with them, the music has a natural euphoric release towards the end after a very tense and atmospheric start to the song. It is another shining example of how well the band have meshed the samples and how beautiful the music sounds.
The final third of the album starts with "Valentina" which features the vocal talents of Smoke Fairies as the band tell the tale of Soviet flight Vostok 6 and the story of Valentina Tereshkova, the first female to reach out of space and also the final Vostok flight as the program was superseded by the Voskhod program. It is a gentle song and does not feature as many sound clips from the mission itself as other songs do on the album, it is just a beautiful song that drifts like a dream in front of you and then it fades into memory as the song itself reaches it natural conclusion. It is one of the weaker tracks on the record sadly, but it is still a decent enough song. The penultimate song on the album is called "Go", this is the song that uses samples from the Apollo 11 mission and the first landing on the moon. It uses a lot of samples as the mission go to the go/no go point of no return time for the mission. It is the strongest song on the album as the music builds up very patiently and it always has a sense of wonder and beauty to the music. The various voices and their own individual tones just add to the sound of the song and the tension of the controls as they head for the ground is tense, the voices asking with the chatter to be kept down could not sound more pissed off if it tried and it would have been due to the importance of the moment; song of the album and worth purchasing the record for this song alone. But that is not the end of the album dear reader, as we have "Tomorrow" and the final Apollo mission (Apollo 17) to the moon. The mission was the last time that a human has gone past a low Earth orbit and the fact that this was last completed in 1972 says all that is needed to be said about where the world leader's see the space program. The voices of the astronauts on the song sound so full of hope that there will be more missions, but sadly that was not to be and it was all over as far as mankind's dreams of space exploration. The song is a good track, the music has promise mixed in with a sense of knowing that it is all about to end, which plays out the final moments of this album with grace and compassion; there is also a secret track tagged to the end with synths sounding like the cosmos is reaching out to beckon humanity back to the vast playground of eternity.
Missing this album is one of those mistakes which cannot be rectified in terms of album of the year and things like that; but finding the album full stop is something that I will be thankful to Mr Mark Hennessey for a very long time. The story behind the albums are fascinating, the music is graceful and it makes me sad that we seem unable to make another flight out there into the last frontier left for mankind (unless we go into the ocean). It is a beautiful testimony to that lost age, showcasing a time when humanity looked beyond the small ball of lava and magma that we sit upon; I cannot wait to see where Public Service Broadcasting go from here, till there next release I will keep on listening to this majestic classic.
9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost....
Top track - Go!
You can visit the Public Service Broadcasting website here (there is a webstore connected as well)
You can follow the activities of Public Service Broadcasting on Facebook here
You can stream The Race for Space on Deezer here
You can stream The Race for Space on Spotify here
You can stream The Race for Space on Tidal here