Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

[Warp; 2009]

Styles: electronic, hauntology, fractured pop songs
Others: The Advisory Circle, Stereolab, Pram, Royal Trux, Captain Beefheart

Broadcast fans take heed: If you’ve come to Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age hoping for more of the compact pop from previous efforts, then you should probably take your coats and hats and head home. A majority of Witch Cults -- a collaborative release between the duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill with The Focus Group’s Julian House -- is more aesthetically in line with the auditory hallucinations of The Focus Group and other Ghost Box artists like The Advisory Circle than with Broadcast. And since its duration is of a length comparable to that of most albums, we can just shirk the assertion from the Broadcast PR camp that this is a “mini-album.” Yes, Broadcast have a "proper" full-length due in 2010, but if you prize the far-reaching experimental tendencies of the Birmingham group, then songs like “The Be Colony” and “I See, So I See So” will be right up your alley.

Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age falls in line with a logic explored by previous bands such as Royal Trux on Twin Infinitives, Captain Beefheart on Trout Mask Replica, and The Hospitals on Hairdryer Peace. Although they all approach from different angles, these artists have uncannily ended up at the same intersection of fractured song forms. Whether they’re splicing tape loops into noise, allowing songs to completely unravel, or having all instruments play in separate time signatures, the listeners are left with fleeting glimpses of pop songs, scattered throughout the album.

By allowing Julian House’s found sounds and murky English electronic music to infiltrate their realm of Spector-esque songcraft, Broadcast have reached into their magic hat and held up the proverbial white rabbit. The result is sprawled out across these 23 tracks. It plays out like even more of an homage to Czech horror film Valerie & Her Week of Wonders than when Broadcast borrowed melodies from its soundtrack on 2003's Haha Sound. But Witch Cults goes even further, drifting between fleeting moments of obscured “songs” and strange haunted house soundscapes. Melodic themes are introduced and later reprised in various forms, but more importantly they often sound as if they’re coming from some out-of-sync universe. The lyrics to “The Be Colony” seem to drift up from the bottom of a well via a flickering echo effect on Trish Keenan’s voice. On “Make My Sleep His Song,” the vocals appear from a rift of static like a radio on an unused channel having its dial slowly twisted back toward a clear signal. It gives off a hazy, psychedelic vibe, similar to the film’s use of Valerie’s dreams to project an aura of disorientation.

Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age will no doubt shock some Broadcast fans. Not only does it let go of conventional song forms for a chance at eternal drift, but it also breaks with nearly any type of propulsive percussion. Since Tender Buttons, the group's last album, relied primarily on a drum machine as the backbone for Keenan and Cargill’s skeletal compositions, this album is a fairly dramatic shift. Rather than attempt to recruit other players and resume business as usual, Broadcast subsumes House’s spectral compositions within a framework that suits every one of the duo’s strengths. If there’s anything scary about this at all, it’s the ease with which they’ve made the corpse of pop songcraft climb from its grave and walk anew.

1. Intro/Magnetic Tales
2. The Be Colony
3. How Do You Get Along Sir?
4. Will You Read Me.
5. Reception/Group Therapy
6. A Quiet Moment
7. I See, So I See So
8. You Must Wake
9. One Million Years Ago
10. A Seancing Song
11. Oh You Chatterbox
12. Drug Party
13. Libra, The Mirror’s Minor Self
14. Love’s Long Listen-In
15. We Are After All Here
16. A Medium’s High
17. Ritual/Looking In
18. Make My Sleep His Song
19. Royal Chant
20. What I Saw
21. Let It Begin/Oh Joy
22. Round And Round And Round
23. The Be Colony/Dashing Home/What On Earth Took You?

Most Read