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Play It Again Sam
This time, the concept album train has pulled in at Berlin, so get ready for a synth-laden barrage of lithe, proggy post-rock from a band that seems to suit every musical hat it chooses to don.
Eerily reminiscent of Bowie’s ‘Low’ era, these elektronische introduce themselves at a finger-popping clip, before melting into luscious swathes of bubbling, widescreen atmospheres. The band’s phenomenal musical versatility continues to astound us, as they pivot and leap from one grand piece to another with the elegance of a gazelle in a tutu. If you want to be taken on an aural adventure that picks you up from the jive-y town centre before dropping you off in a stupefying, star-studded cluster of the universe’s most decadent corner of space, this be your pony!
Aural world-building of the highest order! PSB have utilised their soaring post-rock charm and more than a snifter of industrial propulsion to gel this fantastical array of guests & influences into one throbbing musical map of Berlin. An album in three parts (Building A City / Building A Myth / Bright Magic), it is their most ambitious undertaking yet, bringing you to Europe’s heart and de facto capital, the cultural and political metropolis that is the ‘Hauptstadt’ of the Federal Republic of Germany. “Doing this felt inevitable, somehow,” muses J.Willgoose, Esq. “In my head, it was whirring and pulsing away for a long time, even before Every Valley - this fascinating, contrary, seductive place. I knew the album was going to be about the city, and its history and myths, and I was going to move there. So it’s quite a personal story. It’s become an album about moving to Berlin to write an album about people who move to Berlin to write an album…” Though PSB’s use of electronics and surging guitar rock remain familiar, Bright Magic uses samples, and the English language, sparingly. It differs from their previous albums in other ways: less linear and narrative, instead it’s an impressionistic portrait of a city from the ground up. A Eureka moment of sorts came in November 2018 when Willgoose heard Walter Ruttmann’s radical Berlin tape-artwork Wochenende (or Weekend), which is sampled on three of Bright Magic’s tracks. Created in 1928, the piece collaged speech, field recordings and music into a sonic evocation of the city. Resolving to integrate these long-gone fragments with new manipulated sound sources, he set about making his own Wochenende, a narrative drama for the ears which decodes and realises the dreams of Berlin he’d constructed in his mind. J.Willgoose, Esq. said “I started to get a feeling for where the title of Bright Magic wanted to take me, towards ideas of illumination and inspiration, electricity and flashes of light and colour and sound (all the tracks would eventually be colour coded). I sent it to the rest of the band, and said, I know it’s going to change, but we’ll see how the city itself colours that.” J.Willgoose, Esq moved to Berlin from April 2019 to January 2020. Combining sound archaeology and the flâneuring of the psychogeographer, one street-level pursuit of the city’s energy involved Willgoose walking the Leipzigerstrasse, site of the city’s first electric streetlight, using a wide-band electromagnetic receiver from Moscow’s Soma Laboratories. “I walked up and down recording electrical currents and interference,” he laughs. “You can hear a few of these little frequency buzzes, clicks and impulses in Im Licht (a song inspired in part by pioneering lightbulb manufacturers AEG and Siemens). It’s what I was trying to do in the wider sense, I suppose – to capture those tiny little pulses you pick up while walking through a city.” He wrote and recorded in Kreuzberg’s famous Hansa Tonstudio recording complex. This brought closer several inescapable musical touchstones: Depeche Mode’s classic eighties triumvirate, U2’s Achtung Baby and, crucially, Bowie’s “Heroes” and Low. “The whole shape and structure of the record is very much in debt to Low,” says Willgoose. Indeed, the Warszawa-evoking “The Visitor” – whose designated colour is the particular Orange of that album’s sleeve – was initially intended to feature a sample of Bowie reflecting, says Willgoose, on “how he viewed himself as this vessel for synthesizing and refracting other influences, and presenting avant-garde influences to the mainstream. We tried to absorb a bit of that spirit.” As well as EERA, the album’s other guest voices include Blixa Bargeld, veteran of The Bad Seeds and Einstürzende Neubauten, who becomes the voice of Berlin’s industry on the robo-teknik “Der Rhythmus der Maschinen”. Andreya Casablanca of Berlin garageistes Gurr stands in for Marlene Dietrich in “My Blue Heaven”, an anthem of proud self-determination. A very pro-European record, Bright Magic is ultimately not just about one city, but all centres of human interaction and community which allow the free exchange and cross-pollination of ideas.