The Advisory Circle's Suburban Anxiety
- Words: Cameron Macdonald
On The Advisory Circle’s debut EP, Mind How You Go, a disembodied voice echoes forth the slogan, “The Advisory Circle–helping you make the right decisions!” Innocent, promising words perhaps, especially as a light bed of Moog synthesizer (straight out of ’70s British TV adverts) hums below. But it’s the delivery–a cold, state-certified Big Sister voice–that belies something much more sinister. And it’s that lurking Orwellian tone that’s at the core of The Advisory Circle, the brainchild of Derbyshire, U.K.-based sound experimenter Jon Brooks.
Brooks says The Advisory Circle’s music is about hidden coercion, both political and supernatural. “It’s about the State which says, ‘We’ll look after you, everything is going to be all right,’ with a caring smile, whilst it’s preparing to institutionalize you,” he offers. “It’s paranoia and psychosis. It’s witchcraft and the occult. Folklore and tradition. Ritual.”
A member of the U.K.’s Ghost Box collective/record label, which includes artists The Focus Group, Belbury Poly, and Mount Vernon Arts Lab, Brooks and his labelmates share an affinity for haunted places, psychedelia, analog synth sounds, and “library music” from British children’s programs and documentaries of the ’60s and ’70s. It might sound like an aesthetic already mastered by Boards of Canada, but Ghost Box ventures into darker and more abstract realms. “For me, the main appeal of ’70s library music is that although it’s functional music, it can also be very experimental,” Brooks says.
On his records, like the recent Other Channels, Brooks melds numerous instruments, including moldy, “steam-powered” synthesizers, with TV samples and field recordings. The result plays out like a soundtrack to the life of a British suburban housewife in the ’70s. She’s settled in a comfortable home, “and she’s absolutely bored to hell with all of it,” Brooks explains. A perfect example is the soap opera-themed “Mogadon Coffee Morning,” which Brooks describes as the sound of “a housewife living in her bubble, pie-eyed on barbiturates, trying to leave the straight life behind.”
On top of this ennui is the Cold War paranoia that Soviet nuclear bombs could rain at any moment. That feeling dwells in the track “Civil Defense is Common Sense,” where a grandfatherly voice announces the title before Brooks plays a hymnal, analog-synth melody that resembles a gloomy, patriotic call-to-arms.
“Everything’s fine, but there is something not quite right about it,” is one way that Brooks describes the atmosphere of The Advisory Circle. You might call it gallows humor, if you’ve given “Frozen Ponds PIF”–a PSA to keep kids off frozen ponds (complete with sounds simulating grave misfortunes)–a spin. Other tracks aren’t nearly as self-explanatory, but Brooks maintains the mystery. “If I told you how I’d envisioned all [the tracks], it would kill [it], so I won’t,” he says. “I want every listener to get their cogs whirring and form their own interpretations.”
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