Like a strange mirage glimpsed in the depths of the English countryside…
Louis Pattison 2009-10-15
Broadcast might have once sounded like a group in thrall to the past, entranced by the haunted melodies of Stereolab and the fizz-bang sonic experimentation of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, but in a sense they have also proven to be well ahead of their time as well. The sing-song retro-futurism of albums like 2000’s The Noise Made By People and 2003’s Ha Ha Sound appears to have presaged the current critical vogue for ‘hauntology’, a branch of thought concerned with spectral re-imaginings of cultural history, which has in turn inspired a string of new music from labels such as Ghost Box and Mordant Music.
Here, then, Broadcast’s Trish Keenan and James Cargill link up with Julian House, co-founder of Ghost Box, graphic designer and the man behind The Focus Group for a collaborative project steeped in hazy revisions of the not-so-distant past. The Focus Group’s primary raw material has always been library music: that atmospheric, lightly experimental, always evocative soundtrack fare that typically scored documentaries, children’s programmes and public information films throughout the 70s and early 80s. So, …Witch Cults Of The Radio Age forsakes much of the rhythmic drive common to Broadcast albums in favour of a more patchwork affair – 23 tracks called things like Mr Beard You Chatterbox and Libra, The Mirror’s Minor Self, mostly between one- and three-minutes long, that constitute a bewildering box of delights. Gurgling synthesisers, ringing chimes, Radiophonic echoes, deranged pipe melodies, sudden bursts of funky drumming, wandering woodwind, reel-to-reel tape experimentation… the only common thread to cling on to is Trish Keenan’s clear vocal, and cling you do.
Does it work? Yes, with reservations. Loosely speaking, in the past, Broadcast have always done two things well – drifting, otherworldly pop songs and propulsive, drum-heavy krautrock. This collaboration does neither, opting instead for dislocation, ambience and enigma. But like a strange mirage glimpsed in the depths of the English countryside, …Witch Cults Of The Radio Age is laced with enough wonder and intrigue to keep you coming back. It doesn’t make perfect sense, but the sense of mystery is a key in itself.