Artist: Broadcast & The Focus Group
Album: Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age
Label: Warp Records
Since the mid-1990s, Birmingham, England's electronic dream pop group, Broadcast, has enchanted listeners with their alluring combination of ambient, retro-futuristic soundscapes and psychedelic trances. Their newest LP, Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, finds them collaborating with the analogous The Focus Group, the sound collage solo project of Julian House (British graphic designer/co-founder of Ghost Box Music known for his album cover work for Stereolab, Oasis, and the aforementioned Broadcast among others). The results are, to say the least, astounding, and it has easily become one of my favorite releases of this year.
For those not familiar with The Focus Group, hearing Radio Age may throw off a few first timers. Using a combination of Pierre Schaeffer-influenced sound compositions alongside archived library and documentary music, House's aesthetic approach could have potentially clashed with Broadcast's more traditional song structures, but the marriage between House and Broadcast manages to find the perfect pitch between discomforting and captivating, an eerie seance of voices, sounds, and harmonies that slowly surface and quiver through the ghostly frequencies of some haunted radio.
The LP's second track, "The Be Colony," acts as the record's only perceivable anchor, opening with an ominous waltz-like composition joined by Keenan's weightless vocals blending and reverberating into one other. From here, the record fluctuates between amorphous collections of House's layered sounds and Broadcast's disquieting futurist melodies. The results can only be described as paranormal psychedelia with a tinge of Victorian atmosphere. Most of the record appears to focus (first and last pun in any of my reviews) around The Focus Group and Broadcast's sample-heavy instrumentals, but tracks such as "I See, So I See So," "Libra the Mirror's Minor Self," "Make My Sleep His Song," and "What I Saw" momentarily feature Keenan at her best. The record closes out with a psychotropic summary entitled "The Be Colony/Dashing Home/What On Earth Took You?," a loving ode to Broadcast's love affair with 1960s experimental psych rock band The United States of America.
Radio Age, while being touted as a mini-album, comes off as a fully formed creation that gives a glimpse into the intangible world of mirrors, phantoms, and magic. If you're more familiar with Broadcast, I highly recommend at least giving it a play through. If you're already a fan of The Focus Group, this one is a no-brainer.
Also, for further reading that may indirectly elucidate my feelings on this album and past releases of the parties involved, check out Paleo-Future.