Tender Buttons

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Reflecting their newly streamlined status as a duo, Broadcast's Tender Buttons strips their luminous electronic pop down to its barest essence. Initially, the album is a shock, and not always a pleasant one; many Broadcast fans have come to expect each release as a chance to be blown away by the group's ever-bigger and better sounds, and from their early EPs to the ornate Haha Sound, Broadcast seemed to challenge themselves by adding more layers and twists and turns to their music. Here, Trish Keenan and James Cargill push themselves to do more with much less. The pruning ends up being prudent; concentrating on just a few musical motifs, Tender Buttons has a uniquely fresh, modern feel. Sparingly applied beats, intricate but subtle guitars, and hazy synths dominate the album, providing a restrained backdrop for Keenan's quietly commanding voice and crossword-puzzle lyrics. As if to underscore Broadcast's new aesthetic, Tender Buttons opens with some of its most radical departures: "I Found the F"'s largely spoken vocals and driving bassline, "Black Cat"'s austere pulse, and the title track's whispery, sinister sensuality all stretch (or rather, shrink) the boundaries of what a Broadcast song can be. At first, these tracks just sound unfinished, but the beauty of their bareness reveals itself eventually. Not all of Tender Buttons is this naked. The single "America's Boy" (which somehow manages to play into and dismiss the mythic American soldier at the same time) and "Arc of a Journey"'s stargazing are a little more fleshed out, nodding to the full, swirling sound of Broadcast's earlier work without rehashing it. Likewise, "Michael a Grammar" and "Goodbye Girls" offer a more colorful, charming spin on the band's new approach. Still, Tender Buttons' most restrained moments are often most striking: "You and Me in Time" plays like a delicately surreal update of Julee Cruise's spacy torch-pop, while the absolutely stunning vignette "Tears in the Typing Pool" makes the most of an acoustic guitar and Keenan's gorgeous vocals and evocative songwriting skills. Oddly enough, Tender Buttons' simplicity makes it more demanding than Broadcast's other work; it requires more than just a few listens to sink in. However, the tension between Broadcast's catchy and aloof, experimental sides is what makes their music intriguing, and Tender Buttons is no different in that regard: even when it seems to be stripped bare, it's still full of mystery.

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