The highly specific subject matter of London band Public Service Broadcasting’s third studio album, Every Valley, deals with the rise and fall of the coal mining industry in Wales. This topic would be a peculiar choice for a concept record for most acts, but Public Service Broadcasting’s goal has always been to educate as well as entertain. With a performance consisting of live instrumentation and video projection, PSB specialize in providing an anecdotal lesson, pairing digestible-sized instrumental pieces with prerecorded documentary-style monologues.
Most of the eleven songs that make up Every Valley combine archived sound clips of Welsh men and women monologuing the history of the country’s coal mining industry over thoughtful indie rock compositions. Predictably, the music is often cinematic and emotional, relying heavily on Public Service Broadcasting’s members’ multi-instrumentalist talents to provide lush synthetic string and woodwind arrangements in addition to moving electronica to help flesh out and differentiate the tracks.
While the songs consisting of pre recorded clips in place of traditional vocalists are tolerable, the moments that work best on Every Valley are those that feature either stand-alone guest vocalists or a combination of said guests and archived clips. Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Cambpell appears on “Progress”, but her gorgeous vocals are unfortunately limited to the song’s chorus. On the other hand, Manic Street Preachers’ frontman, James Dean Bradfield, is utilized to great effect throughout the driving “Turn No More”. Every Valley’s best moment arrives during the bilingual duet “You + Me”. The song, which features lovely vocals from Welsh singer Lisa Jen Brown and PSB’s J. Willgoose, Esq., is so much more beautiful and interesting than anything that comes before or after it, you’re left wondering why the band didn’t strive for this type of balladic excellence throughout.
Every Valley’s allegorical lessons are obvious. After the album’s lessons are learned, however, listeners will find themselves indifferent when exposed to the documentary-style narrations a second time. Yes, Every Valley is educational, and yes, its important themes are ones that reverberate throughout time in many different cultures and in many different industries. Still, the standout musical and vocal moments herein are so few and far between, the record ultimately ends up being an unfortunate, insubstantial listening experience, one that begets ennui far too quickly.