ChipWIN-tern Spotlight: ‘Blackout Mania’ by The National Broadcast Network

- Posted May 14th, 2019 by

It is very rare that I get to announce that one of my favorite acts has come back from the dead, but mark my words – like a sleeper agent activated by a numbers station broadcasting for the first time in years, The National Broadcast Network has started transmitting again. And my friends, the signal is strong.

For those of you as-yet uninitiated, The National Broadcast Network, formerly just National Broadcast Network (or, as I’ll be referring to them throughout the article, NBN), is the nexus point between oldschool high-energy punk rock and an everchanging assortment of chiptune aesthetics with occasional vocoded vocals. (You might also remember them from one of our early compilations.) One of my favorite things about NBN albums is that you’re never really sure what you’re going to get with every track – sure, it could be drum-heavy punk, it could be a calm piece reminiscent of the synth-only soundtrack to old educational broadcasts. If there are lyrics, they could be political, they could be nihilistic, or as is the case at least twice this time around you could have an ode to wrestlers. No matter the flavor, each track is created with the same loving care as the next.

A turbo-charged track worthy of the Macho Man for sure. With galloping drums and the alternation between heavy guitar with distorted synth backing it up and very crisp synth leads that then meet up and play concurrently, there’s a lot crammed into this little three minute track. There’s a fake-out ending in the middle that gets brought back in the actual ending that I love – most NBN songs play off of a few sections that are repeated one after another, but the repetition is usually instant. Having one musical phrase pay off farther down the line is a welcome change to the usual formula.

Something NBN does on basically every album is revisits a theme of a song from a previous album. ‘Module 2: Stars and Nebulae’ builds off of the educational program soundtrack concept introduced in ‘Education Module 1: Our Solar System’ from the 2012 album ‘Atomic.’ Instead of opting for a more bitcrushed, oldschool synth feel, ‘Module 2’ goes for a fuller, lusher soundscape. Both tracks feature very staccato 16th notes to act as a metronome to counterbalance the more atmospheric synth lead, but ‘Module 2”s additional inclusion of a fat bass marking the 8th notes makes for a more aurally interesting piece. Also, where it may have given up the vintage flavor by being a little more hi-fi, the inclusion of what I can only describe as ‘laser-y’ sounds in the background make sure the aesthetic is still clear.

If there was ever such a thing as the ‘automatically sound good’ button like some folks seem to think exists with digital music production, it would really be the ‘add arpeggios’ button. ‘A Screaming Start’ is awash in arpeggios and maybe it’s because it’s a shakeup from the normal both in terms of instrumentation as well as compositional style (instead of straight 16ths which most of the rest of the album has held to, you’re assaulted with triplets until the song starts to resolve), this is hands down my favorite track on the whole album. It also features a pretty rad drum solo, which is also unique to the rest of the album – while many tracks feature live drums, it’s never featured so prominently as here.

If you’ve never heard of NBN before, this is a hell of an album to start your journey. If you’re well aware of NBN, be prepared for an amazing payoff to a six year hiatus. Also, if you didn’t know, as every good broadcasting network should, they run a very well curated newsfeed on Twitter featuring music, vintage sci-fi art, comics, and the occasional political and pop culture posts. Definitely worth the follow if you’re a Twitter-er. And hey, do you love NBN? They finally have shirts! Wear one to your next house show, impress your friends.


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