‘A nuanced and complex musical creation’

Thomas Athey finds Public Service Broadcasting's 'Every Valley' has many peaks

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It would have been easy for Public Service Broadcasting to become bland and boring. Once the novelty of their distinctive style had worn off, there seemed a serious risk that all they would do is apply the same trick in new contexts. Happily though they have avoided this trap, with their latest offering Every Valley being so much more.

Partially this is down to the depth of the subject matter. Every Valley is primarily a story about the rise and fall of the coal industry in Wales, but also symbolically a miniature of post-industrial decline worldwide. This not only feels more topical than previous subject areas explored by PSB, it is also significantly broader in scope. Their previous offering for example, Race for Space, is a simple tale of the struggles of getting humans beyond earth. Every Valley has this simplicity too, with the core events of the decline of coal mining outline in the way you would expect, but there is an added layer of nuance not found in their earlier work.

One way this is particularly evident is in the vocal delivery. The crisp, upper class recorded tones PSB habitually use return on this album, especially during ‘The Pit’. This track emphasis the danger and risk involved in mining, yet it raises the question of whom exactly is narrating these risks. The miners themselves are certainly not telling it, and as such the track invites us to consider where our perceptions of coal mining come from. This then contrasts with the otherworldly and angelic voice of progress on the track of the same name. Progress is God’s will, and pits will close.

The album also benefits from guest starring other musicians to fulfil vocal roles. Most notable of these is James Dean Bradfield, of Manic Street Preachers fame. Present on the track ‘Turn No More’, it is hard to imagine this particular song being as convincingly delivered by anyone else. Trace Campbell however also provides the voice of progress mentioned above, and folk musician Lisa Jen contributes some warming tones towards the end of the album. This variety of musical expertise both helps ground the album in its Welsh context (James and Jen are both Welsh), but also speaks to how its themes permeate across wider society.

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Rounding off the package instrumentally Every Valley shows PSB on top form, as they always are. To be fair, they have had a lot of time to practise the use of instrumentation to set create a mood, but it is still a joy to hear guitar riffs that perfectly complete the theme of the song. Gentle plodding, a gradual noise building back up, the descent into the pit, before jarring and screeching guitar chords create a sense of conflict for the strikes. Overall, Every Valley is a nuanced and complex musical creation, and should be enjoyed by everyone.

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