Considering the influence cult films and their music had on Broadcast, it's fitting that the band wrote a score of their own. And since sound design -- particularly the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's groundbreaking work -- also played a significant part in their music, it's even more apt that they scored Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio, a film about Gilderoy, a hapless English sound engineer working on an Italian horror movie in 1976. The film in question, The Equestrian Vortex, is never shown, leaving audiences to envision its horrors as Gilderoy stabs watermelons, rips vegetables, and sizzles cooking oil to obtain the perfect terrifying sound. Similarly, Broadcast's music provides a vivid backdrop not just to The Equestrian Vortex, but Gilderoy's response to his part in crafting it. "Monica's Fall," which layers breaking glass, a blood-curdling scream, a screeching synth, and a sickening splat, needs no visuals to horrify, while the field recordings of laughing girls and chirping birds on "Such Tender Things" take on a deeper voyeuristic cast. Just as Strickland reinterprets Argento and other giallo masters, James Cargill and Trish Keenan take inspiration from Ennio Morricone and the other composers and engineers who shaped the feel of those films on a subtler, but arguably more lingering, level than their Grand Guignol visuals. Berberian Sound Studio recalls Broadcast & the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age in its brief, brilliant pieces, though the score is more restrained. Most of it is remarkably soft, full of whispery flutes, organs that teeter between sacred and sacrilegious, and melodies that nod to medieval music as well as the '70s. Keenan and Cargill present interlocking themes that create an air of quiet suspense masterfully: the graceful melody of "The North Downs Dimension" and "The Gallops" is demurely mysterious, while "It Must've Been the Magpies" and "His World Is My Shed" share a motif equally full of beauty and sinking dread. At the heart of the score is a circular melody that is tender and creepy in varying degrees, becoming increasingly claustrophobic on "Beautiful Hair," "Collatina Is Coming," and "The Dormitory Window." A few moments of pure horror pierce this delicate haze, whether it's the inhuman vocalizations on "The Fifth Claw" or "Found Scalded, Found Drowned"'s pulsing synths. Despite its homages, Berberian Sound Studio is unmistakably Broadcast. "The Equestrian Vortex" recalls the jazzy, psychedelic leanings of their early singles and The Noise Made by People, while "The Sacred Marriage" rivals Witch Cults in its trippy beauty. This score was the first new music Broadcast released after Keenan's untimely death from pneumonia in 2011, and the pieces with her vocals -- especially the spine-tingling "Teresa, Lark of Ascension" -- are all the more poignant. Clever, eerie, and beautiful, Berberian Sound Studio is the perfect accompaniment to a film that examines the nature of fear and sound's part in it, and it's wonderful to hear Cargill continue Broadcast's legacy with a project so tailored to their strengths.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares