While the notion of outer space has been at the centre of many albums, from Eno’s Apollo to Hawkwind’s In Search Of Space, few have dealt with it so specifically as the excellent second from London’s Public Service Broadcasting. As much a history lesson as a concept album, The Race For Space sees multi-instrumentalists J Willgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth mix samples from America, Russia and shuttle cockpits in the great beyond with infectious, electronic kosmische tones.
Things begin subtly with the title track, featuring John F Kennedy’s rousing speech to the public announcing the space race, here mixed with celestial drones and choirs. “Sputnik” fittingly builds from a simple synth pulse and satellite beeping to end as full-band rock, while “Fire In The Cockpit”, which pays tribute to the American astronauts killed in a launchpad fire at Cape Kennedy in January 1967, is an ominous drone piece slowly joined by Godspeed-esque strings.
Much of the album is more upbeat, however, and sometimes suitably celebratory – “Gagarin” is a slice of horn-driven funk complete with amusingly stern Russian broadcast samples, while “The Other Side” is a six-minute crescendo layered with buzzing, insistent synths. Smoke Fairies help out with vocals on the gorgeous, Mogwai-like “Valentina”, inspired by cosmonaut Valentina Tereshka, the first woman in space. As we reach the peak of the space race, the epic “Go!” chronicles the moon landing with NASA samples, while wistful closer “Tomorrow” seems to lament the end of our journeys to the moon in the ’70s.
When heard in one go, The Race For Space is a stunning ride; one that sees Public Service Broadcasting moving their sound on, away from the guitar-driven likes of “Signal 30” or “Spitfire”, and harnessing even more electronics and samples to create a multi-textual marvel. Sehr kosmische, indeed.