As much a documentary as a conventional studio album, The Race For Space sees geeky London duo J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth, aka Public Service Broadcasting, switch their attention to the history of space travel on a second remarkable blend of krautrock, ambient electronica and archive audio footage.
Jumping ahead several decades from 2013’s Inform-Educate-Entertain, which borrowed heavily from the public information films of the pre-war era, these nine tracks focus on the years between 1957 and 1972, when America and Russia fought for technological supremacy in the most intense manner imaginable.
It’s a clever and intriguing concept that Public Service Broadcasting pull off expertly, from the moment John F. Kennedy’s “we choose to go to the moon” speech plays against a suitably soaring choir on the opening track, “The Race For Space.”
The Kraftwerk-esque “The Other Side” perfectly captures the anxiety and relief inside the Apollo 8 mission control room with an inspired use of static and silence before bursting into life with swelling guitars and cinematic strings. “E.U.A.” serves up a similarly tense, yet altogether more proggy, soundtrack to document the feat of the first ever spacewalk, while “Sputnik” commemorates the first man-made satellite with an atmospheric array of lunar bleeps and muted house beats.
Elsewhere, “Gagarin” is an exuberant ode to a certain cosmonaut named Yuri which sounds like Miami Sound Machine covering a Blaxploitation soundtrack. “Valentina” is a gorgeously dreamy ode to the first woman in space, featuring guest vocals from folk-pop duo Smoke Fairies. And “Fire In The Cockpit,” a stark, cello-driven piece inspired by the ill-fated Apollo 1 mission, shows that the pair are just as adept at scoring tragedies as they are triumphs.
Public Service Broadcasting have previously revealed that their aim is “teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future.” It’s a mission that The Race For Space completes in awe-inspiring style.