Children of Alice LP
For those attuned to Broadcast and the Focus Group’s wavelength, the 2009 collaborative album Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age was a hallowed union. Throughout the 2000s, Broadcast had reimagined psych-rock in a way that mirrored the Focus Group’s adventures in library music and musique concrète—both artists’ warped nostalgia and movie-music mania dealt in temporal freefall, with spectral production that exhumed ghosts from radio static. On Witch Cults, these hauntological peas in a pod simultaneously peaked: In Trish Keenan’s daydream deadpan, the Focus Group’s Julian Housefound an anchor for his abstractions, while Broadcast’s oneiric detail flourished anew, unmoored once and for all from rock’s retro swing.
Six years after Keenan’s death, it’s the spirit of Witch Cults that pervades Children of Alice, James Cargill’s new post-Broadcast project with Julian House and Broadcast keyboardist Roj Stevens. Their debut ventures further into sonic wormholes—the structures are byzantine, melodies vanishingly sparse—but has the same buzz of eccentric minds dialing into a familiar frequency.
The trio, named in honor of Keenan’s beloved Alice in Wonderland, make music steeped in eeriness and sweetened with wonder. Children of Alice opens with “The Harbinger of Spring,” in which a strangled hum mingles with birdsong and children’s laughter. Beneath it all looms a three-note bass pulse, sounding faintly ominous, but it’s soon reborn in a palatable key. The record never settles into its unease. When a cuckoo clock heralds the hour, you notice the “boing” of its spring, a perfectly innocent technology. Jump-cuts splice the scenes into disjointed vignettes, but it feels less like psychic overload than the beguiling minutiae overheard by a baby between naps.
The album’s intrigue lies in its prelinguistic response to a hyperactive world. “Invocation of a Midsummer Reverie” collages a furious scurry of warped raga drones, distressed whistling, and erratic tabla. It ought to overwhelm, but the music, often aglow with Cargill’s warm synths, seems determined to witness mayhem with wide eyes rather than bloodlust. Even the faintly erotic skin-slapping sequence—with yelps and maniacal laughter—takes on a dreamy, aqueous quality, as if it were part of an arcane meditative ritual.
Between the field recordings and concrète collage, moments of grand beauty waft out of the ether. Eleven minutes into “The Harbinger of Spring,” an uneasy silence settles, then bursts into a celestial F-major 7th, scattering melodies like sunlight through cracked glass. More tamely rendered, the movement could transmit epic yearning, but its purpose here seems spiritual, admitting a sublime moment into the chaos. The group proceeds with irreverence—groaning brass, whirring static-gusts, murmuring speech—but can’t disguise the air of sanctity.
Throughout Children of Alice, intermittent flute lines evoke the alien, swannee-whistle voices of “The Clangers,” the strangely poignant late-’60s TV show that encouraged kids to imagine “less fortunate stars” than Earth, where life “might be very different, very bleak and dull.” Our fond nostalgia for the show feels somehow bound to its creepiness—slightly too-long silences, eerily calm narration—which is the hauntologist’s bread and butter. But Children of Alice is different from its predecessors. Its nostalgia feels less escapist than therapeutic, and its composure amid the mundane and deranged is more of a promotion for mindfulness. Unlike Broadcast, there’s no friction here between their daydreams and our reality; those worlds collapse into one, harmoniously intertwined. From its soundworld of small terrors rises something unterrifying, a mis-en-scène too lovingly rendered to haunt.