PSB have always threatened to collapse into gimmickry. Rock music that is based on, not embellished by, use of historical samples, is a turn-off on paper. So far though PSB have had the musical chops and passionate commitment to make it work. Every Valley is another success.
Last time around, J.Wilgoose was tackling the race for space, a story that lends itself to music. The band used analogue synths and tricky production to mirror the technocratic environment of NASA ground control. Every Valley charts the trials and tribulations of a small mining community in Ebbw Valley. As such, all the synth effects and technological whizz-bangs have been binned.
To capture the gritty, earthy feel of their inspiration the band double down on guitars, brass, and copious levels of strings. A few analogue synthesisers have been sneaked in, humming in the background of ‘People Will Always Need Coal’. However the band succeed in championing a new pallet of sounds this time round.
What’s missing from The Race for Space, one of the strongest albums of 2015, is that sense of adventure. Their sophomore record was a seriously ballsy piece of work; see funk superhero theme song ‘Gagarin’. PSB could be blamed for playing it safer here, with a more subdued and deferential sound. However it allows them to tell a smaller and more personal story.
Like all of PSB’s stories, we know how it ends; but the getting there is thrilling. Every Valley is packed with catchy hooks, uplifting choruses, terrific rambling percussion from drummer Wrigglesworth, and a loving reverence for the story told.
Every Valley is not structured to arrive at a single point. The listener does not leave having been lead to a conclusion. The story of the coal industry is a very British tragedy, and one that is slowly coming back into the public conciousness. The faltering of the Labour party has drawn eyes back to the story of coal, as the loss of the working class is closely tied to the parties wavering fortunes.
PSB do not structure Every Valley so as to bring out on unavoidable conclusion. Who was to blame? People? Politics? Or progress? This is a historical and evocative account, but not a mandate. Take from it what you will. It may just be a collection of spirited indie rock, if you want it to be.
The best song, lead single ‘Progress’, is the only song that feels out of place. It’s clean, humming intro feels more like a come down from ‘Go’ than anything else on this album. However it’s catchy as hell, so that’s probably why it made it in. Other highlights include the lovely folk on ‘They Gave Me a Lamp’ and the tender ballad ‘You & Me’ which features welsh singer Lisa Jên Brown and yes, Wilgoose himself (!), who had derided his own vocals in the past. Turns out he can sing like a linnet; give us more singing boyo.
Every Valley is a smaller project than The Race for Space and is also less punable (reaching for the stars, stratospheric heights etc etc) however this is another winner from the plucky two-piece. As heartfelt and evocative as anything you’ll hear this year.