BROADCAST: BROADCAST & THE FOCUS GROUP INVESTIGATE WITCH CULTS OF THE RADIO AGE (2009)
1) Intro / Magnetic Tales; 2) The Be Colony; 3) How Do You Get Along Sir?; 4) Will You Read Me; 5) Reception / Group Therapy; 6) A Quiet Moment; 7) I See, So I See So; 8) You Must Wake; 9) One Million Years Ago; 10) A Seancing Song; 11) Mr Beard, You Chatterbox; 12) Drug Party; 13) Libra, The Mirror's Minor Self; 14) Love's Long Listen-In; 15) We Are After All Here; 16) A Medium's High; 17) Ritual / Looking In; 18) Make My Sleep His Song; 19) Royal Chant; 20) What I Saw; 21) Let It Begin / Oh Joy; 22) Round And Round And Round; 23) The Be Colony / Dashing Home / What On Earth Took You?.
«The Focus Group» is a glossy moniker concealing the identity of one Julian House, a graphic designer best unknown for painting album sleeves for Stereolab, Oasis, and, yes, Broadcast themselves. In between visual feasts, he is also a big fan of library music, and «The Focus Group» is his way of awakening strange, mystical, previously unencountered and unexplored emotions and desires within... oh, never mind. He is doing sound collages.
This first, and last, musical collaboration between House and Broadcast is one of those ʽRevolution-number-ninishʼ records that splits audiences into one-star and five-star camps, depending on whichever neuron net brain configuration it comes in contact with. In other words, if you are the «neo-sensitive» kind of person, crying your heart out at the latest MoMA installations, these fourty eight minutes may turn into a Land of Oz trip. But if you have stricter rules about opening your soul to whatever new combinations of sound waves roll along, the experience will be frustrating. It certainly was for me — feeling as if I were witnessing a good friend forcefully held with his head below the muck's surface, only occasionally coming up for fresh air. And yes, I am fully aware that nobody here was actually forced, but it does sound like it.
At its best, the album is typical Broadcast fare, more in the vein of HaHa Sound than Tender Buttons — ʽThe Be Colonyʼ is particularly salvageable, being both one of the first and one of the longest tracks on the album, a fake-teaser for the non-things to come; and every now and then, some beautiful Trish vocal launches into a midnight fairy dance (ʽI See, So I See Soʼ), a cute counting rhyme (ʽWhat I Sawʼ) or a magical lullaby (ʽLibraʼ; the appropriately titled ʽMake My Sleep His Songʼ). When extracted, dusted off, and accurately re-spliced, they all make up for a tender, fragile, sympathetic, if already quite predictable EP, particularly valuable for hosting the last scraps of Keenan-era Broadcast material.
But these little gems are frustratingly rare incrustations in an overall sea of sound, concocted under the supervision of House, that, to me, sounds befuddling and confusing without being properly evocative. The chimes, bells, whistles, ringing power chords, brain-melting fuzz, crashing cymbals and haunted vocal overdubs are all in the psychedelic ballpark — ʽRitualʼ sounds not unlike the random wild experimental bit on Piper At The Gates Of Dawn or Axis: Bold As Love — but really, that ballpark closed ages ago, and you don't just reopen it with a set of equally randomly assembled collages. At least The Animal Collective, who engage in similar activities, tend to look towards the future somewhat, but this stuff has an explicit nostalgic scent to it, and nostalgizing about free-form tape-splicing seems rather silly, particularly when it borders on almost religious fetishism.
Cutting it short, I refuse to take this stuff seriously. The regular psychedelic musical box of Broadcast is one thing, but this here is a broken, or, rather, intentionally disassembled musical box where they subject you to all the technical aspects of the various forms of cog-grinding and spring-ringing and bell-clanging — interesting enough for a technician, perhaps, but tremendously boring for everyone else. Even if there are a few useful musical ideas here, the average one-to-two minute length of the tracks prevents them from being explored or even just fixated in the listener's brain anyway. (Granted, since most of these ideas are quite useless, the short length usually saves rather than kills, but listening to brief flickering quanta of sonic silliness is only marginally better than listening to lengthy torturous tapestries of sonic silliness).
And this whole stuff is so retrogradishly passé anyway — they might as well have put a Jackson Pollock painting on the album sleeve. Thumbs down, although not before the few good examples of actual Broadcast songs have been carefully removed — the rest belongs in the trash heap, as far as I'm concerned.
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