Every time I tell people about Public Service Broadcasting, I’m always astonished to be met with blank stares. The London-based trio has been quietly going about their business throughout the 2010s, combining Kraftrock, indie rock and electronic elements with obscure instruments (banjo, flugelhorn, vibraslap…) and samples of informational and archival films, which they use to narrate their concept-based records on modern history.
In this way, they’re able to tell the story of the space race between the U.S. and Russia (as on 2015’s The Race for Space), of culture in post-WWII Britain (as on 2013’s Inform – Educate – Entertain) and of Welsh coal mining in the 1980s, as on 2017’s Every Valley, my pick for Album of the Decade.
Described by the band as an allegory for “abandoned and neglected communities across the western world,” the album moves through the rise and fall of the coal industry in Wales, from its early heyday, to its gradual decline. While this seems like a very politically-charged subject in these modern times, it’s important to point out the level of pathos and compassion the band shows for all those who were involved in the industry.
Every Valley shows how coal mines were a beacon of modern technology, revered for driving economies and enriching communities. It never glorifies the mines or discounts them; the samples merely reflect the views of the time, with the backing orchestration echoes the positivity of the industry, the depth of the mine (as on standout track, “The Pit”) and the belief in its progress for society.
Of course, what goes up must come down, with the second side of the album telling of the miner strike and the ultimate closure of the mines. The anger of the workers becomes palpable in the heavy post-rock sound of the track “All Out,” before reflecting on how the mine was a symbol of identity in many Welsh towns of this period. The record culminates with a choral rendition of “Take Me Home” (originally by ’70s Welsh rock band Edwards Hands), which hits you so hard in the stomach it leaves you deflated.
Every Valley tells the story of the people who worked in the mines, the communities built and debilitated by them, and the dual-edged sword of technological progress. It never looks to demonize or praise, but rather show how progress affects society on a human level.
It could have been very easy to push one side of the coal issue on this album, but Public Service Broadcasting would rather tell a story of humanity than of disaster. It’s a refreshing perspective in these trying times, which is what makes it my pick for Album of the Decade.
Brendan is an avid record collector from Adelaide, Australia and the man behind the @ridges_and_grooves. There are few genres he won’t listen to. His search for the best album of all time through process of elimination continues.