J. Willgoose Esq. is one part of Public Service Broadcasting, an innovative two-man electro-rock outfit.
Two precociously named Londoners, J. Willgoose, Esq. and a drummer known only as Wrigglesworth, have made a propulsive little album.
“Inform, Educate, Entertain,” the debut release from the duo known as Public Service Broadcasting, is a delightful, driving trip through an intoxicating, textured landscape of indie electronica, rock and Anglophillia.
PSB, which performs at Slim’s on Thursday night, combines instrumental electro-rock with samples from British public broadcasting archives. When performing live, PSB uses visual, often old archival public service films.
Many groups have tried this, but especially on the music front, PSB have a particular finesse, never drowning tunes in verbiage and using the often anonymous voices nimbly. PSB can transform spoken text into vital rhythmic components but also know when to allow the words to just float.
Occasionally dubbed “post-rock,” a nebulous genre label typically referring to instrumental rock with sweeping, almost symphonic components, PSB is hard to pin down.
“I struggle to put a label on it myself,” says Willgoose. “I’m not sure it’s post-rock, though there are elements of that in it. Mogwai would be an ifluence, so I can see why people put us in that direction, but I don’t think it’s a particularly accurate label. I don’t even really know what it means.”
Unlike many electronic artists, PSB put in the effort to keep the live show invigorating. Instead of hiding behind laptops or DJ decks, Willgoose manages keyboards, guitar, sampling and miscellania and Wrigglesworth drums.
Willgoose has seen a few bands use laptops onstage.
“I just ask, ‘What are you doing mate? Checking your email or something?' It’s just maddening,” he says. “We don’t shy away from making it clear that there are one or two laptops involved, but it’s more how you use them. The emphasis is on performance as much as electronics.”
Anglophiles will like the voiceover snippets PSB has cleverly chosen. “Spitfire” incorporates an announcement going over the specs for the iconic one-seater WWII fighter plane of the same name. A technological revolution of the time, British citizens of a certain age can still mimic the Spitfire’s unique roar, even Brad Pitt bought one for his latest grown-up toy.
But the most exhilarating thing about “Inform, Educate, Entertain” is its mellifluous ride. Music that verges on sound collage can often be tedious, boring or neglect key songwriting elements. Not so with PSB.
“Signal 30” opens with jagged guitar, like the dark side of Franz Ferdinand, before unleashing a haunting electronic riff and imploding with metal-infused, headbanging guitar rhythms. If “Signal 30” is a peek into the shadowy voids of temptation, the subsequent “Night Mail,” “Qomolangma” and “ROYGBIV” are heavenly, ascendent antidotes.
It is hard to get any prettier than “Lit Up,” however, a tune that uses a somewhat infamous clip of an old British Navy officer and BBC radio commentator, Thomas Woodrooffe, getting nostalgic about a fleet of ships “lit up” by “fairy lights” (a common British term for Christmas tree lights and the like).
His misty-eyed description is infused with twinkling, chiming electronica that takes off into a euphoric synth symphony. It’s the sort of thing to make The Postal Service or Passion Pit very jealous indeed.
If audiences ever go quiet though, Willgoose never assumes it’s from musical awe.
“I think sometimes people get hypnotized by the visuals, that’s how I account for lack of applause,” Willgoose says. “By the end you get a warm response and think ‘oh we must have been all right all along.’ How much we’ve got going on is almost too much, but better to do that than the other way round.”
IF YOU GO Public Service Broadcasting Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., S.F. When: 8 p.m. Tickets: $13 to $15 Contact: (415) 255-0333, www.slimspresents.com