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First Listen: Public Service Broadcasting's 'Race For Space'

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's hear some new music now. Our guides - the co-hosts of All Songs Considered, Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton.

BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Robin Hilton, imagine a time where man never left the earth, where we never walked on the moon and never seen the Earth from afar. And then news breaks that there's something circling the earth - man-made.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPUTNIK")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This is the beginning of a new era for mankind. The era of man's cosmic existence.

BOILEN: This is the music of Public Service Broadcasting, two nerdy British dudes that go under the name of J. Willgoose, Esq., and he plays guitar. He plays banjo and electronics. And then they have this amazing drummer, and he goes by the name of Wrigglesworth. And the object they're referring to this piece of music is Sputnik, from 1957.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPUTNIK")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: All over the world, people are tuning in to the bleep bleep of the satellite.

ROBIN HILTON, BYLINE: And these two guys - they don't speak or sing a word on this entire record - "Race For Space" - as they chronicle our first forays into space, from 1957 to roughly 1972. Instead, they use all of these old news clips, speeches, control room chatter from NASA to tell the story of the United States and Russia's race into space. And perhaps one of the most thrilling moments came in April 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the earth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GAGARIN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: This is Moscow. This is Moscow. On the 12 of April, the Soviet Union orbited a spaceship around the earth with a man on board.

HILTON: And listening to the song, which is just called "Gagarin," you get a sense of the range of tone on this record. And even though they use a lot of audio clips and news clips, they're set against real parts that they've written, and they're playing in the studio. Another one of the most exciting moments in the history of the space race came in 1968, when Apollo 8 became the first craft to leave Earth's orbit and it whipped around the moon - around the dark side of the moon. And for the first time ever, we could see the earth in its entirety as this orb floating in space.

BOILEN: Right, and that tension that happens when it's out of communication with NASA, and we're waiting to hear from them. Do they safely come around the other side?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE OTHER SIDE")

GERRY CARR: Apollo 8, Apollo 8, this is Houston, Houston, over.

FRANK BORMAN: Roger, Houston. We read you loud and clear. How do you read us?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: We've got it. We've got it - Apollo 8 now in lunar orbit. There's a cheer in this room. This Apollo control Houston, switching now to the voice of Jim Lovell.

BOILEN: I got chills just hearing that. I remember that moment so well. And I think that's the beauty of this record. In one album, Public Service Broadcasting are able to capture that excitement and that bravery.

HILTON: And these audio clips they use - they make them very musical. Like on this cut, which is called 'Go!' - all about Apollo 11's landing on the moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO!")

GENE KRANZ: OK, all flight controllers, go-no-go for powered descent. RETRO?

CHUCK DEITERICH: Go.

KRANZ: FIDO?

JAY GREENE: Go.

KRANZ: Guidance?

STEVE BALES: Go.

KRANZ: Control?

BOB CARLTON: Go.

KRANZ: TELCOM?

DON PUDDY: Go.

KRANZ: GNC?

KEVIN WILLOUGHBY: Go.

KRANZ: EECOM?

JOHN AARON: Go.

KRANZ: Surgeon?

J.F. ZIEGLSCHMID: Go.

BOILEN: Public Service Broadcasting's mission, I think - and you can glean this from their first album title, which is called "Inform, Educate And Entertain." And they do that so, so well. I imagine somebody who didn't live through this listening to this record, "The Race For Space," and just being knocked out to hear the story told this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO!")

KRANZ: RETRO?

DEITERICH: Stay.

KRANZ: FIDO?

GREENE: Stay.

KRANZ: Guidance?

BALES: Stay.

KRANZ: Control?

MONTAGNE: NPR's Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton talking about the latest from the band Public Service Broadcasting. The album comes out next week, but you can stream it now at nprmusic.org. It's part of our series First Listen. And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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