Broadcast + Atlas Sound: 17 October 2009 – Washington DC

Atlas Sound

Lovers of left-of-the-dial indie pop could have hardly conceived a better double bill in their dreams. Broadcast and Atlas Sound have similar methods, taking simple 1960s melodies and ornamenting them with reverb, waves of electronic distortion, Jetsons synth and spacey percussion. It’s the sort of sensitive, adorable indie pop with a weirdo edge that makes record geeks swoon. Animal Collective’s Geologist spun interstitial grooves, only adding to the level of music nerd abandon.

It took a good 15 minutes for me to realize that I hadn’t accidentally signed up for some kind of “special” noise-jam version of a Broadcast show, because the first 15 minutes of their set was an extended suite of average retro-futuristic moog noodling (moogling)? This was my first introduction to live Broadcast, and I was not happy about it. Where were the twee melodies and rubbery vintage guitar tones? Why am I staring at a giant glorified Winamp visualization featuring motifs like “close-up dead leaves” and “squiggly green lines” instead of go-go girls with Mary Tyler Moore dresses? Why is it only two people in white robes?

Most bands can do what Broadcast did that night. They excel at the right-angled intersection of pop and avant-garde, and tonight’s set leaned way further towards the experimental than any of their previous albums. When the familiar swirling harp of “Lunch Hour Pops” kicked in, the whole crowd breathed a sigh of relief that they weren’t tricked into seeing some sort of side-project billed as Broadcast. It’s a shame, because frontwoman Trish Keenan, the Grace Slick of indie rock, sets the band apart from scores of imitators.

Her haunting delivery was rendered even more eerie than usual, given that she was decked out in Druid’s garb. Eagle-eyed attendees were not fooled; she could be spotted backstage wearing a matronly jumper while stagehands set up the projection screen. The second half of the set was populated with the band’s poppier material, but the set was an overall disappointment.

Atlas Sound’s performance was also unexpected, but in a good way. I had the opportunity to catch Bradford Cox performing as Atlas Sound last summer in Barcelona. He played mostly electronics as the breeze blew in off the Med.

Cox’s voice is standard indie fare. It has humble range and Cox doesn’t really try to impress anyone. But there’s innocence there, in the way he enunciates every consonant at the beginning and end of each word. No “k” or “t” sound goes without forceful delivery. At times he plays like a teenager still finding his way in the music, unsure if he’s got the right notes. The vocals lag behind the beat, always trying to catch up. Sometimes he sounds like a drunken man trying to convince everyone in the room that he’s not drunk by enunciating his words in such a way as to make absolutely sure that he’s not slurring anything.

Tonight’s performance was grounded by actual instruments, with no computers in site. Cox favored an acoustic guitar and harmonica for most of the night while opening band he Selminaires backed him up. During their set, the Selminaires provided a gawky blend of tribal dance funk. While playing as Atlas Sound, they matched Cox’s alternating neo-Dylan folk and shimmering, upbeat shoegaze with ease. Most of the new Logos was represented, albeit in strummed acoustic sounds. The fresh interpretation on his songs didn’t feel forced. If you hadn’t heard the album, you wouldn’t have suspected that anything was missing, which is no small feat for an artist who relies so much on computers.