Broadcast's haunting third album is undoubtedly their high-water mark. It’s a record that remains mysterious even though all of its elements are basically at the forefront. Trish Keenan’s vocals remain clarion despite getting plenty of the reverb treatment, thanks to her erudite British diction. All those moogs that sound like they’re falling apart, stitched together by James Cargill’s web-like guitarwork and pumping basslines, even those roaring in the background, you can pretty much hear it all, yet it feels like facing mirrors stretching to infinity, given the sense of space their layering allows. Tracks like “Black Cat” offer an antiseptic rush, pulsing forward while Keenan intones curious, disjointed phrases as though reading from a medical journal. “Tears in the Typing Pool” sounds like the soundtrack to signing divorce papers, winsome and stuffy at the same time. “Corporeal’s” evocative imagery conjures sex in classrooms and medical chairs (“Under the white chalk … Under the x-ray … do that to me”), or a physical manifestation of such a fantasy as synths squirt and fizzle around her vocal, which is among the best she put to tape.
Though their other releases (especially Haha Sound) have comparable highlights, Tender Buttons is their most consistent release. Side Two remains equally brilliant, from “Arc of a Journey’s” lavaflow of synths through “Michael A Grammar’s” spare saw-tooth-wave jam, “Goodbye Girls” arpeggiated, ’60s-pop perversion and “I Found the End’s” wordless descent.
Tender Buttons is a dark and sometimes disconcerting trip, but it’s also full of wondrous, surprising sounds. Both as classy background music and as a springboard for introspection, Tender Buttons is, simply, incredibly efficient. Read an expanded version of this review here.