R.I.P. Trish Keenan of Broadcast

Posted February 1, 2011 in

Every now and again, there’s a band. They are very good at what they do, but they don’t really find commercial success because they are making music that is out of sync or out of time with the collective public. As they move through their career, there is a certain healthy respect for such a band, mostly because it makes people think that they’re missing something. Critics gush, because they don’t want to appear that something brilliant might be passing them by, even as they’re being left behind. These bands often end up being the stuff of legend, bands that influence other bands, bands that create experience whether it be rational or visceral or something else that you can’t quite put your finger on. These are bands that can make you uncomfortable.

Broadcast was one such band. They had a revolving cast of members, but two remained steadfast in their art. Trish Keenan and James Cargill created songs that were disconnected—creating sweeping cinematic arrangements only to have static cut it up into pieces. Broadcast’s music features heavy plays at psychedelia, a large electronic presence, loops and samples, one-note riffs, jazzy drum fills. Trish’s vocals are heavy on the reverb and sound like they could have come from a ‘60s girl group.  Bells and soft guitars gave way to dry scratchy drones, like a wool blanket:  heavy and thick, kind of scratchy, and slow to warm. It’s Trish’s voice that you cling to.

Trish Keenan is the grounding force that puts the melodies and the dissonance together. It didn’t quite work for me at first, though they were impressive in their attempts. But then I realized that it’s not that they didn’t work, it’s that I wasn’t ready for it. Once I understood it, the music became seamless, flawless and nearly angelic—rational and visceral, but not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

The Noise Made By People (2000) was a good, safe introduction, and while Haha Sound (2003) is great (and the band’s most commercially successful album), it’s really the dark, dreamy sounds of Tender Buttons (2005) and collected works of The Future Crayon (2006) that I revisit most. It’s Trish’s child-like voice that has kept me coming back to Broadcast. I wanted to know it, I wanted to know her, and I want her melodies to sing me to sleep, and to hold me in that unsure dark space, or carry me off to other worlds. As time has moved on, Broadcast still sounds edgy and a little uncomfortable in its urgency. It sounds like past music of the future—out of time, because it’s timeless.

Trish Keenan passed away on January 14, 2011 from pneumonia. She was only 42.   Her mortality will make this music even more immortal, and she will continue to inspire people and challenge what people think they know. R.I.P. Trish. Your lullabies will always sing me to sleep—sometimes with dreams, sometimes with nightmares.