Broadcast & The Focus Group – …Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (Warp) LP
To get what remains of the record-buying public heated up for the release of Sonic Youth’s most recent LP, Matador Records allowed an MP3 collage of song snippets to circulate online, prior to the album’s release. As a sneaky marketing ploy, this was probably pretty effective – said collage made The Eternal seem rather more exciting than it actually turned out to be.
The “Trailer” that Warp unleashed to presage the release of Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age was – by contrast – a perfect encapsulation of the album as a whole. On this collaboration, hauntological overlord Julian House – aka The Focus Group – chops, splices and reconfigures a set of new recording by Birmingham post-rockers Broadcast. Consequently, the whole album sounds like a collage of snippets.
The most obvious point of reference here is Faust’s classic The Faust Tapes – in the way that House repeatedly cuts between churning industrial chaos and pastoral folk-pop. Broadcast’s more song-based fragments, meanwhile, are strongly redolent of early electronic rockers like The United States of America and White Noise.
But this album is much more than just retro – it’s retro-futurist. Broadcast – the duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill – has long been at the forefront of UK post-rock’s retro-futurist wing (along with fellow Brummie’s Pram). Keenan and Cargill began as rather pallid Stereolab imitators (for what it’s worth, House has designed sleeves for both Broadcast and the ‘Lab) but they’ve really started to assert themselves on recent releases. This album immediately feels like the best thing they’ve ever been involved with.
Maybe it’s a case of right place, right time. House and his Ghost Box label really seem to have captured something of the zeitgeist – almost single-handedly defining the fusty, radiophonic aesthetic of hauntology. Keenan and Cargill have been ploughing a similar furrow for some time. Clearly, the time was ripe for this particular harmonic convergence.
Maybe a little too ripe, you might argue. The title of the album is so generically hauntological that it borders on self parody. You might even be forgiven for thinking that it’s a foreshadowing of the moment when hauntology will finally disappear up its own Ghost Box.
But damn if Investigate Witch Cults doesn’t just work. For all the weird jump cuts and uncanny juxtapositions, nothing here seems contrived. It overwhelmingly feels like the work of driven artists sincerely doing their respective things, just when such things are needed the most. This, in other words, is the stuff classic albums are made of.
Apparently, the vinyl is a strictly limited edition. If you see one, buy it.