When eccentric innovators come together, wonderfully weird things tend to happen. The three members of Children of Alice aren’t at all strangers to each other, and past instances have proven to bring about incredible, disorienting results. James Cargill and Roj Stevens previously performed together as members of criminally underrated cult UK dream pop act Broadcast, which effectively came to an end after the death of frontwoman Trish Keenan. And Julian House, better known as sample-heavy library psych act The Focus Group (as well as his design brand INTRO UK), likewise collaborated with Cargill on the collaborative album Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age. The three musicians have a particular knack for the eerie and the otherworldly, the hallucinatory and the strange. All of which adds up to a naturally creepy result on their debut full-length as Children of Alice—a name that shouldn’t require too much explanation given the card-suit cover art. It’s a trip through the looking glass. It’s downright mad.
Essentially a compilation of mostly previously released material, Children of Alice’s self-titled release pulls together four tracks of ghostly transmissions, effects-addled found sounds and twisted treatments. There’s more than a kernel of Broadcast’s own psychedelic wonder in these compositions, though there’s scarcely anything here that resembles a pop song. In “The Harbinger of Spring,” the 19-minute opening track, the trio most closely resembles a fusion of analog synths with Nurse With Wound’s comically horrific abstract industrial sounds and pagan rituals from The Wicker Man (a reference that proves apt, given that there’s a track called “Rite of the Maypole” later in the album). It’s both whimsical and deeply, deeply unsettling. It’s otherworldly and fun; it feels unsafe.
When held to shorter track lengths, Children of Alice offer something closer to structured pieces, though that could all be an illusion; the illusory, after all, is one of the communal strengths among these three musicians. Though no single piece ever stays in one place for long, establishing a kind of melodic motif before skipping off to the next swirling and hazy diversion, each one is a stunning in its presentation of sonic collage. Some moments are harsh and percussive, others are conventionally pretty. Most of them feel like a seance in progress. Children of Alice are, in a sense, more spiritual mediums than songwriters. They simply call the apparitions out of the woodwork, inviting them for a playdate on mortal soil.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.