BROADCAST are back with a new unique psychedelic collaborative album with renowned graphic and musical artist JULIAN HOUSE (aka THE FOCUS GROUP) titled, 'Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age'. BROADCAST (Trish Keenan & James Cargill), have collaborated with renowned designer Julian House (aka The Focus Group) to create a unique album pulling in both collaborators' unique sense of melody and love of library music and film scores. After a long hiatus, it can be said with confidence that Broadcast's return is greeted with much anticipation. From their beginnings in 1995, Broadcast's aesthetic has remained a combination of their love for film, library music and electronics with psych-pop colour - a style which has gained them an enthusiastic fanbase including musicians such as FLYING LOTUS, STEREOLAB, GRIZZLY BEAR, ATLAS SOUND (who they are now sharing a co-headline tour of the US) and DANGERMOUSE. Their music is also a popular choice for film and TV, feat. on the soundtracks of many films as well as TV shows such as "The L-Word", "Skins" and "CSI".
Review by Heather Phares
Broadcast's music has always been a little unearthly, so Broadcast & the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age isn't so much a departure as it is an inspired homage to their influences. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and its alternately innocent and menacing soundtrack inspired the band years before the movie was rediscovered. The whimsy and strangely familiar feel of '60s and '70s library music could also be heard in their music from the beginning, but never more clearly than on this mini-album. Broadcast's more esoteric side is heightened by the Focus Group, whose Ghost Box label is ground zero for the evocatively named hauntology micro-genre, which digs deep into vintage electronics and notions of what people thought the future would be like -- two things Broadcast have always done, even if they're not explicitly part of the hauntology crowd. ...Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age's highly detailed, evocative miniatures replace Tender Buttons' stark clarity with softly busy collages full of literal and figurative layers. Analog synths, distant beats, guitar arpeggios, and clouds of Trish Keenan's vocals flit in and out of snippets like "Will You Read Me" in a gently disorienting and deeply trippy fashion. Yet the feel goes beyond being merely druggy, although the funky "How Do You Get Along Sir?" and self-explanatory "Drug Party" certainly imply chemical enhancement. Most tracks radiate a spectral purity, or suggest something as hallucinatory as ghosts taking drugs. "We Are After All Here," which superimposes Keenan's voice with backwards vocals, shimmering electronics, and crowd noises, sounds like two worlds layered over each other -- and it's impossible to tell who's on which side of the divide. But while ...Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age has a few spooky moments, most notably "Libra, the Mirror's Minor Self," it's more charmingly odd than unnerving, with the dusty warmth of mellowing in an attic somewhere. "The Be Colony" echoes Haha Sound's cheerfully aloof psychedelic pop, with Keenan sounding as blankly sweet as a children's show host as she sings "all circles vanish"; "I See, So I See So" invokes winter with brittle chamber music; and the half-dirge, half-lullaby "Make My Sleep His Song" may be the album's most beautiful melody. Despite the meticulous layering and arrangements in songs like these and "Ritual/Looking In" -- which sounds like a never-ending sunrise called into being by a magical flute -- the album is so open-ended that it often sounds like field music. It's not surprising that Broadcast would imbue so much creativity into what other acts would consider a stopgap release, but ...Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age is still unique in their body of work. Not so much a soundtrack to a film that was never made as it is music that demands images to accompany it, this is a welcome return after the four years of silence that followed Tender Buttons.
Broadcast and the Focus Group form a likely pair: Both groups make warped psychedelic music rooted in jazz, Euro-pop, and 1960s BBC interludes instead of rock or blues; both conjure a bookshelf's worth of cultural blasts from the nocturnal side of the world-- Satanic texts, Czech horror films, pulpy science fiction lit; both are-- as if there were any doubt after hearing their records-- acutely British. Julian House-- the man behind the Focus Group and the co-founder of Ghost Box records-- has designed Broadcast's album sleeves for years (in addition to work for Primal Scream, Stereolab, and others). The specificity of their aesthetic projects-- and yes, these are bands with "aesthetic projects"-- is so pronounced that calling them kindred spirits implies too much accident: they're more like co-conspirators.
So Witch Cults of the Radio Age is predictable-- actually, it's surprising that they didn't decide to record something like it earlier. But for all their similarities, Broadcast and the Focus Group approach their peaks in very different ways. Broadcast's music is sensual and chic; it has poise, groove, and sex; it's black eyeliner. Nitsuh Abebe, writing on this site about the band's outtakes collection The Future Crayon, pointed out that they'd become almost expert in mapping weird onto what were ostensibly pop songs. I'd agree, but almost to their discredit. Broadcast wear their idiosyncrasies like bangles-- even when I like their music, it feels like it could change shape at any time. By contrast, the Focus Group's native tongue is the stutter; the music's imbalance is in its DNA. Rarely does it ever coalesce into something intelligible, and when it does, there's usually something smeared overtop to throw it off-course.
Though the album is a collaboration, it's obvious which side anchors which tracks: "The Be Colony", sung by Broadcast's Trish Keenan, plays like a nursery rhyme trapped in amber; "Mr. Beard, You Chatterbox" is 80 seconds of disjointed harpsichord and flute that flares out into static and echo. Broadcast's contributions are intoxicating and lovely; the Focus Group's sound like a three-legged kitten knocking over teacups. It's refreshing to hear two seemingly similar bands highlight each others' differences, but it's also why their collaboration isn't as impacting as the albums the bands make alone. Witch Cults is like the sound of Broadcast and the Focus Group trying to cast their spells at the same time: Some of the record is great, plenty of it is cross-chatter.
"For me, the paranormal is most powerful when it's unassuming," Trish from Broadcast recently told The Wire-- "not obviously spooky or dark." She went on to talk about how when she and Broadcast bassist James Cargill moved houses, familiar names and places took on new forms-- for example, their new downstairs neighbor looked exactly like their former roommate's girlfriend. "Even my mom was replaced by an old toothless poodle." It's a benign sense of horror and disorientation-- compare it, for example, to Animal Collective's professed interest in slasher movies and all the gross, visceral sounds they integrate into their songs (squish, guts, screams). Europe breeds romantic monsters like Dracula; America breeds disturbed children who grow up to disembody teenagers with mass-market appliances, like Leatherface or Michael Myers. Broadcast and the Focus Group -- together and apart-- offer something a little more prim than the image of someone getting a wooden spike through their eye, but I think the intent is roughly the same: To create a space where, for a second, there's no sense to be made.
— Mike Powell, October 27, 2009