The Advisory Circle, As the Crow Flies

Joe Muggs

By Joe Muggs

on 07.18.11 in Reviews

If you grew up in the U.K., the retro-electronica released on the Ghost Box label carries powerful cultural resonance. You can hear echoes, in their sound world, of the “Radiophonic” synthesiser experiments that soundtracked BBC dramas and educational shows and played after TV channels had shut down for the night back the 1970s and early ’80s. The Advisory Circle’s As the Crow Flies taps deeply into this well; the album is punctuated with clipped announcers’ voices and uncannily captures the peculiar atmosphere that infused the broadcasting of the time: not just deliberately strange fiction, like the original Dr. Who, but even local news broadcasts and nature documentaries.

Deft and evocative songwriting that’s far from traditional

If they relied solely on kooky nostalgia, they’d quickly become as tiresome as a bunch of stoner college students obsessing on the cartoons of their childhood. And if they were purely conceptual — cleverly demonstrating the mechanisms of memory and culture — they’d become a chore to listen to, dry fodder for blog debates but with little value beyond that. The thing that really matters about the Advisory Circle is not the meticulously retro artwork and synth tonalities — it’s their deft and evocative songwriting.

That’s not traditional songwriting, mind — this is an almost entirely instrumental album, bar the very Air-like vocodered finale of “Lonely Signalman.” But the Circle mine those simple synth tones and dusty technologies to create layer upon layer of nagging earworms and lushly unfolding chord sequences. Tracks like “Everyday Hazards” and “Learning Owl Reappears” have deceptively simple lead lines that unfold into the listener’s subconscious, the counterpoint of second and third background melodies holding them in place in your mind. And in particular, the shimmering chords of the more ambient tracks “Innocence Elsewhere” and “Unforgotten Path” have a simple beauty that transcends any technological or cultural reference points. The results are as memorable as any verse-chorus-verse construction.