Public Service Broadcasting’s third album, Every Valley, is a beautiful, though intense examination of the rise and fall of the Welsh mining industry. Obscure and oddly specific at first, the narrative explored on the band’s new release is one that could easily be extrapolated to tell the story of declining industries in regions throughout the United States, as well as the world.
The group’s name comes from the practice of using old public information films, archival footages and the like. For Every Valley, however, the band interviewed ex-miners and historians to tap into the emotions associated with the mining industry’s collapse. It’s easy to close your eyes while listening to the album and picture the documentary unfolding on the back of your lids.
It begins with a sunrise on the album’s title track. “The sun rose first on the dead and the sleeping” says one voice on a song that, with the help of airy strings, helps paint a bright, hopeful picture. “Every little boy’s ambition in my valley was to become a miner,” adds another voice, introducing the theme of Every Valley.
From hope to haunting, “The Pit” features constant, pounding drums that conjure images of assembly line efficiency underground. “It’s 3 feet, 6 inches high from floor to roof,” says one sample, providing a startling sense of claustrophobia as the discussion turns to potential disasters.
“People Will Always Need Coal” offers an upbeat, disco-esque turn as propaganda samples sell the mining lifestyle: “It’s an industry of men. We need more men” and “There’s more to mining than dust and dirt.” Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell propels “Progress” into pop territory with her repeat “I believe in progress.” The song, which addresses the challenge of staying positive while changes threaten the status quo, signals a change in the album’s narrative, as well as its tone.
The first true rock song on the record, “All Out,” takes on the conflict generated when miners decided to strike, while protest song “Turn No More” seems to be an ode to a dying (or dead) industry.
The heart of the album is found on “They Gave Me a Lamp,” a song that suggests adding women to a discussion adds context and perspective. “I’ve been in front. I’ve never give in. I have never sat back and I have never refused anybody. And I am very proud of it. And I’ll be proud to look back on it,” says a woman who worked as a miner.
“You + Me” is another nod to the geographical focus of the album. Welsh singer Lisa Jen Brown joins the band for a duet that sounds like a love song, between individuals, but also within a community. The melancholy ache on “Mother of the Village” belies the loss of normalcy as that community acknowledges the end of a way of life.
Just as the album opened with the sun rising, it closes with a sunset. A voice describes the completion of a work day before an a cappella Welsh choir sings “Take me home where my heart lies.” Every Valley wraps up with nearly 10 seconds of silence, allowing the listener to absorb the narrative laid out in its 11 songs.