Broadcast and The Focus Group: Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age

If you're a pop band, developing a style over the course of three or four albums may not only result in a signature sound but also a straitjacket of sorts. Broadcast duo James Cargill and Trish Keenan devise a clever and crafty solution to the problem by teaming up with The Focus Group (Julian House, long-time friend of the band and co-founder of the Ghost Box label) for a so-called ‘mini-album' of twenty-three tracks (at forty-eight minutes, the recording's running time exceeds some other artists' full-lengths).

A smattering of songs vaguely reminiscent of Broadcast's previous output are scattered amongst a more plentiful assortment of one- to two-minute instrumental collages, backwards tape experiments, and loose space-jams. After a brief overture of wonderland chime and chatter (“Intro/Magnetic Tales”), we're plunged into the sonic psychedelia of “The Be Colony” in which Keenan's unmistakable voice nimbly glides over a warbling backdrop of harpsichord and trippy echo. In the twisted baroque setting “I See, So I See So,” her chants are accompanied by high-wire keyboard melodies and seagulls, while long-dormant spirits are channeled in the woozy “A Seancing Song.” She becomes a a sing-song choir in “What I Saw” and in “Make My Sleep His Song” could be mistaken for Julee Cruise, especially when the murky backdrop is as diseased as a prototypical Badalamenti-Lynch production.

In the instrumental settings, strings, flutes, whistles, choirs, harpsichords, organs, animal noises, distorted voice fragments, and found sounds collide like so much flotsam and jetsam washing ashore. Like a Philip Jeck-Stereolab jam, “Let It Begin/Oh Joy” overlays sea-sick vinyl manipulations with sleepy mallet patterns, while “Drug Party” is as dazed and confused as the title suggests. In short, the non-vocal tracks sound like what might result if an electronics producer were let loose on a long-ignored vinyl archive at some library or radio station. Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age turns out to be not only a cheeky title but apt too, given how heavily the material is rooted in vinyl ghosts of one kind or another. Not surprisingly, the two outfits prove to be natural collaborators, given their shared affection for psychedelic pop, electronics, library music, and obscure film soundtracks.

November 2009