As far as subject matter goes, it does not get much bigger than Public Service Broadcasting’s latest album.
While many bands write about love or war, PBS have taken something much more momentous to form the basis of their latest work: the Race for Space.
But while the subject matter remains one of mankind’s greatest achievements, PBS are modest about their ability to match that.
Frontman J Willgoose Esq says: “I’ve always found the space race fascinating. It’s dangerous but also thrilling. But while we wanted to sum up the spirit of the Space Race, we never thought we could do justice to it.”
“Working with subject matter like this cuts both ways. Some people may think that the music is lacking.”
In fact, the music perfectly complements the dozens of British Film Institute archival clips the band have sampled.
The opening sequence is from President John Kennedy’s 1962 speech about the space programme:“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
And while samples such as this serve as narrative pillars throughout the album, PBS write the music first.
J says: “The samples are always chosen later.”
Music alternates between Balkan-inspired beats and bold brass to denote the Russian galactic victories of the likes of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, while Kennedy’s speech is interspersed with choral parts.
The event that kickstarted the Space Race was the Russian Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, which was launched into space in October 1957.
Though this follows Kennedy on the album, its musical introduction is bold and simplistic - much like the no-nonsense engineering of Sputnik.
Its signature ‘beeps’ are weaved into this electro-instrumentation, making for a sublime track.
It also takes the listener by surprise, much like the way in which Sputnik baffled and terrified the Americans in the late 1950s.
J says: “It was hard to know where to stop with the material for this record. We didn’t really include anything about the Russian engineer behind Sputnik, Sergei Korolev.
It’s interesting to touch on him and Saturn rocket engineer von Braun, but we stayed away, because it’s difficult to keep it down to an album.”
The range of styles on the album is staggering – from classical-infused vocal harmonies to drum-laden funk.
“We recorded lots of different drum sounds and tried to mix stuff up a lot,” says J.
And they do this well, from the ‘beeps’ announcing the start of the Space Race and the heat of the Cold War to the bombastic confidence in the later funk parts.
And then there is the live show.
J says: “We do put a lot of work into visuals and we do have a giant Sputnik that lights up.”
n Public Service Broadcasting play The Foundry, Sheffield, on Tuesday. For tickets, priced £18.50, visit publicservicebroadcasting.net