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Broadcast And The Focus Group – Broadcast And The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age

"Broadcast And The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age"

Broadcast And The Focus Group – Broadcast And The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age
26 October 2009, 08:00 Written by Simon Tyers
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Layout 1In the four and a half years since their last album Tender Buttons, Broadcast have become something of an influence. Having headed a small but significant scene of Birmingham-based sonic manipulators (Pram, Plone, Magnétophone) around the turn of the decade, there's a growing number of artists, from Atlas Sound to Beach House, whose work betrays their feted aereated keyboards, ethereally warped melodies and psychedelic overtones to an electronic undertow. Now down to a duo, a proper album is promised next year but in the meantime they've made this mini-album - that's what they call it, if a 23 track, 48 minute record really qualifies as 'mini' - of... Well...What, exactly?It's tempting to deduce that this collaboration is far more The Focus Group than Broadcast on initial listen. The Focus Group is Julian House, maintainer of the Ghost Box label, a repository for library music, soundtracks and other such cut and paste retro-futuristic pieces that are commonly grouped together under the genre heading 'hauntology'. Such reimagining of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, hugely influential to the British wing of avant-garde sonic experimentalists, makes the pair a fair match. What such a meeting of similarly attuned minds turns out isn't so much a coherent body of popular music work as a collage of found sounds and snippets of investigative layered breaks.The only thing you could reasonably attest to being a completed song is got out of the way immediately. 'The Be Colony' reminds us that hidden somewhere amid the refracted synths, Trish Keenan's trance-like floating vocals and space age bachelor pad music is a keen sense of pop melody, just expressed as if transmitted via Hubble telescope. You could make a similar case later on for the two minute 'I See, So I See So', which relocates a pretty, sped up harpsichord melody to the Wicker Man soundtrack ending in Keenan's circular incantations, but that serves more to relocate the atmospheric timeline flow to somewhere off a misty coast after dark, which not uncoincidentally would be the single least advisable place to have this playing on the mp3 player. That 'The Be Colony' is followed by 'How Do You Get Along Sir?', where a beat boom rhythm is derailed by ghostly wails, echoes, clanking from what might be an untuned acoustic guitar and unidentifiable percussive interjections, is more like it.It's certainly not an easy album to appreciate at face value, and only the particularly perverse would put it on at social gatherings. Hauntology in this context, with its pasted in cuts from the sound effects library, is reminiscent of imagined 1970s TV soundtracks, overnight short wave radio, odd B-movie horror soundtracks and the sort of ambient soundscapes you only ever come across in reading The Wire. Sometimes it has so many ideas it's not sure what to do with them all. 'Drug Party' starts with a stoner groove framed by cartoon critters and ancient synths keen to pull it apart before the whole thing is launched into space with only dog barks and backward drones for company, ending in arrhythmic drum rolls and pulses. 'Mr Beard, You Chatterbox' brings in a freaked out jazz break, 'Libra, The Mirror's Minor Self' a plaintive English folk vocal pitted against heavenly echo. Every so often woodwind or music box keyboards fade in. Even with everything going on and merging into each other in a dreamlike state it's easy to drift off momentarily and find you're four tracks on from where you left off, and even when concentrating you do find it difficult to refrain from just demanding they stop messing about and actually do something with one of the many passing ideas. Most attempts at trying to conceive a linear direction are thrown awry with every sudden side road into what sounds like, and may be, washing being thrown around over slowed down percussion. Eventually a choir arrive three tracks from the end to bring something approaching calm, if via The Exorcist, before the closing 'The Be Colony/Dashing Home/What On Earth Took You?' half-reprise drops us slowly back into the land of cosmic beat jokery.The background of the two artists and the suggestions implicit in that title suggest a concept, some ideology of finding a ghostly core to all this. It's certainly a record that exists in its own world, one usually inhabited by sound manipulators most of us will never hear - one also detects hints of Olivia Tremor Control's great lost 1996 psych-dreampop opus Dusk At Cubist Castle - but informed by Broadcast's cinematic edge, psychedelically glistening production and, most excitingly ahead of that long promised new album proper, suggestions of new musical directions and approaches, the sort of thing that deserves the term 'freak folk' more than any number of Devendra Banhart's mates. An extraordinary album, if not one to necessarily file alongside Broadcast's usual meanderings through sci-fi retro. It's far too dissonant and spooked for that.

Buy album from Amazon | [itunes link="http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?id=330778226&s=143444&uo=4" title="Broadcast And The Focus Group" text="iTunes"]

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