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Broadcast & The Focus Group - Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age (2009)


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. --- Heather Phares



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