History and Art
The London duo known as Public Service Broadcasting, who typically incorporate snippets of vintage public information films into their unique music, have struck gold with The Race for Space. This album is both a chunk of mankind’s history as well as a musical treasure. Focusing on the US/Soviet space race between 1957-1972, The Race for Space chronicles the mishaps, tragedies and the victories for space exploration during that time. It is a perfect follow-up to Inform-Educate-Entertain.
The album begins with the title track, which features a psychedelic soundscape with Public Service Broadcasting’s typical sound bites ringing out over the tapestry they create. The track feels celestial and evokes the feeling of something starting. From here, Public Service Broadcasting begins their timeline of the race to space.
These tracks vary wildly. There is the pulsing “Sputnik” (which gives us our first look at a human victory against space), and the beautiful “Valentina.” “Gagarin,” on the other hand, is quite laughable with its hokey big-band feel and the repetition of a Russian name sounding just absurd. “Electric Slide” will make the listener want to simultaneously dance and study spacecraft, so it seems Public Service Broadcasting have done their job. It perfectly serves to lift up the listener before plunging into the sadness of the next track.
“Fire in the Cockpit” explores the tragedy of Apollo 1 through a pulsing, droning soundscape that clearly paints the picture of horrified scientists and a country in mourning. The only positive to the song is that it ends. It’s beautiful, but painful to listen to, as is “The Other Side.” That track lets the listener feel a fraction of the anxiety felt when Apollo 8 orbited the moon, lost radio contact and regained it once it was out on the other side.
“Go!” is probably the most fun fun track released in a long time. It makes you smile. It’s the musical definition of a happy-dance; Apollo 11 succeeds. “It’s quite quiet here in Mission Control,” “The Eagle has landed,” “Ok, keep the chatter down in this room!” The music whirls, and it’s just so…it makes the listener proud to be human. This is the track that makes the album.
Public Service Broadcasting’s Race for Space have created a beautiful way to make art with history. It is worth more than just a listen; this album should make one want to research this important part of history. It should make you realize everything that mankind has accomplished, and all that it has suffered in the name of innovation and science. This album feels incredibly intimate even though it is simply a piece of history.