Over the last five years, the British experimental electronica trio Public Service Broadcasting has taken substantial steps to alter their approach to recording studio albums for the better. The group has managed to do this by cutting back on the inclusion of documentary-style sampled narrations and providing more guest vocalists and engagingly hypnotic atmospherics. PSB’s last full-length, 2017’s Every Valley, while handily providing a forty-five-minute crash course on the British mining industry, ultimately left listeners who’d come looking for an entertaining experience, one that could be enjoyed over multiple listens, left with what was essentially an audio textbook that, once absorbed, served no further purpose.
Public Service Broadcasting’s latest, Bright Magic, will probably be the first and only full-length to celebrate what may come to be referred to as the band’s Berlin period. After a short, moody, dooming piece laid over a field recording of the German outdoors, the record launches into “Im Licht”, a bright, synth-driven number whose title translates to “in the light”. For just over four minutes, a robotic voice is heard repeating the words “im licht” over an increasingly optimistic score that travels from a simple galloping rhythm to include shimmering synths that lead to a rather abrupt ending.
Perhaps predictably, Blixa Bargeld is featured on “Der Rhythmus Der Maschinen”. Here, over what sounds like a locomotive that pans from left to right speakers, a driving beat and lead electric guitar line rise aggressively then climax and fall away just before Bargeld sing-speaks in German while the track rebuilds itself, this time in a more subdued manner. More features follow, first with the Berlin-based Norwegian singer Anna Lena Bruland, who goes by the moniker EERA, on the cold, groove-heavy “People, Let’s Dance”. Guest singer Andreya Casablanca features on Bright Magic’s centerpiece, the excellent, upbeat “Blue Heaven”. EERA returns to close out the record’s strong cluster of features with the gorgeous ballad, “Gib mir das Licht”, a song sung beautifully in German whose title in English translates to “Give me the Light”.
Bright Magic’s last handful of songs are comprised of a suite of three instrumental pieces titled “Lichtspiel”. This trio is bookended at the fore by “The Visitor” and at the aft by the record’s closer, “Ich und die Statd”. All told, these five tracks flow beautifully from one into the other and comprise twenty-plus minutes of Public Service Broadcasting at their finest atmospherically.
While Bright Magic is undoubtedly a much more cohesive and entertaining listen than its predecessor, it doesn’t break any new ground. What it does do is make one want to revisit Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, wherein he, along with producer Brian Eno, created not one but three albums that managed to masterfully capture the sonic essence of the German city and deliver it into the ears, minds, and hearts of the world. Regardless, Bright Magic is a step in the right direction, one in which Public Service Broadcasting and their collaborators provide more than a few worthwhile moments.