Trish Keenan, vocalist for British experimental electro-pop group Broadcast, has died of complications from pneumonia. Keenan spent the last two weeks in an intensive care unit battling her illness, with the band’s manager publicly releasing a statement yesterday saying that she was fighting for her life. Keenan died early this morning. She was 42.
Keenan co-founded Broadcast in the mid-’90s, with the band releasing several singles via Wurlitzer Jukebox and Duophonic Records before getting noticed by Warp. That label issued both the 1997 compilation Work And Non Work as well as Broadcast’s full-length debut, The Noise Made By People, in 2000. Its blend of primitive analog synths and Keenan’s mellifluous coo revealed obvious influences like The United States Of America and drew immediate comparisons to Stereolab, but whereas that band had begun settling into a space-age lounge-y groove by then, Broadcast’s use of more avant-garde sci-fi sounds hinted at an anxiety and darkness that would be further explored in later releases. Not that it was evident in Keenan’s always-bewitching voice on tracks like “Come On Let’s Go,” easily one of the most seductive songs of the last decade (if not ever).
The follow-up, 2003’s HaHa Sound, found the band working in even more dissonance, unexpected samples, and rattling polyrhythm, as well as drawing influence from the soundtrack for the Czech horror film Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders, but for all its nightmarish qualities, Keenan’s vocals remained a dreamy center.
By 2005, only Keenan and James Cargill remained from the original group, with Broadcast’s third album, Tender Buttons, reflecting the duo’s new reliance on circuit-bending cacophony, as well as a necessary, more minimalist approach that resembled the starkness of Young Marble Giants (or, in contemporary terms, The xx). It was still driven by Keenan’s lilting vocal melodies, but these were shrouded in distortion and deliberately abrasive shrieks. It’s a tough album, but one that definitely marked a pinnacle in Broadcast’s evolution.
Broadcast’s output slowed somewhat after Tender Buttons, with the band releasing the rarities compilation The Future Crayon in ’06 and the tour-only EP Mother Is The Milky Way. In 2009, the duo partnered with experimental musician and graphic designer Julian House, a.k.a. The Focus Group, for Broadcast And The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, a collage of strange, spectral electronic hallucinations that, in its mix of sounds both jarring and charming, somehow summed up everything Broadcast had accomplished in its career.