Release Date: Oct 27, 2009
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Alternative
Broadcast's music has always been a little unearthly, so Broadcast and 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.
Like fellow Birmingham psychonauts Pram, Broadcast have the misfortune to be a group whose aesthetic has seeped into pop consciousness without taking the band with it. Initially bracketed by critics somewhere between Portishead and Stereolab (whose Duophonic label released the group’s startling 1997 EP The Book Lovers) Broadcast soon proved themselves equally adept at playing cultural blotting paper with their own individual inspirations. Sharing Stereolab’s love of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and French chanson, they also soaked up Sixties electronic rock pioneers The United States of America and 20th-century composers – the nightmarish ‘Hammer Without a Master’ is titled after IRCAM founder Pierre Boulez’s ‘Le Marteau sans Maitre’ – distilling it all into sweet-sour nuggets of hallucinogenic wonder.
That Ghost Box’s entire catalogue has thus far escaped distribution in the United States has perhaps made their objet d’arte albums even more talismanic to those of us who are unable to gaze at their beauty without laying down handfuls for those expensive imports. One of the most rousing (oc)cult phenomena of the past decade, the Ghost Box record label has created a career conjuring past futurisms and collectively buried fears to create music that quite literally feels like it’s in a different league, even another dimension, than other modern musicians. Though the collaboration Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age is being released on Warp, it’s something like an unofficial Ghost Box confection, and it’s a massive paranormal grimoire of sound that future generations may mistake for the audio book to the Necronomicon.
Broadcast and the Focus Group form a likely pair: Both groups make warped psychedelic music rooted in jazz, Euro-pop, and 1960s BBC interludes instead of rock or blues; both conjure a bookshelf's worth of cultural blasts from the nocturnal side of the world-- Satanic texts, Czech horror films, pulpy science fiction lit; both are-- as if there were any doubt after hearing their records-- acutely British. Julian House-- the man behind the Focus Group and the co-founder of Ghost Box records-- has designed Broadcast's album sleeves for years (in addition to work for Primal Scream, Stereolab, and others). The specificity of their aesthetic projects-- and yes, these are bands with "aesthetic projects"-- is so pronounced that calling them kindred spirits implies too much accident: they're more like co-conspirators.