34 Satellite kick off their second album Radar with three songs of Replacements-esque rock. Each has catchy melodies, forceful guitars, personal lyrics and, most of all, a giddy punch that is hard to mistake. Plus the third song, "Riverside", takes it one step further by doing a really close imitation of the melody line to the Mats' "Achin to Be" during the verses. For the rest of the album, they branch out a bit more, pushing their sound in more of a melodic countryish-rock direction. It's a sound that puts them in plentiful company, not too far from an assortment of fine bands that mix classic rock and pop with country styles, like Marah, Whiskeytown, the Bottlerockets, Jayhawks, Wilco, etc.
Having lived in the Midwest my whole life, I am not wanting for rock bands that mix traditional country with classic rock. Go to your nearest bar and you’re likely to find one. At first glance, then, 34 Satellite’s Radar offers nothing especially new to my life. But that begs the question: why do I always need something new in my life? 34 Satellite might not be breaking any new ground, but does it matter? I want to say that it does, that there’s no use listening to something unless it takes you somewhere new, but I can’t, for a simple reason: Radar sounds fantastic in my car. In fact, it sounds good at home too, and at work, and in my Walkman. 34 Satellite might not be innovative, but they know how to write catchy songs that make for nice companions.
Radar is a mix of upbeat rockers and slow, pretty ballads. There’s also a handful of songs that do a great job bridging that gap, by hitting your emotional side and moving things along energetically. Some of their ballads are the high points, like “You”, “Wishing Well”, and “Fly Now”. These are relationship songs, but they mean a lot because they sound like they came from the heart. In a way, that’s the lesson to be learned from an album like this: if the music comes from an authentic place in the songwriter’s being, and the songwriter is skilled at writing melodies, hooks and lyrics, then what more do you need?
Ultimately, Radar is a success not because it’s new, but because it’s human. 34 Satellite’s songs come from the perspective of dreamers, travelers, and the broken-hearted. In other words, real people who have real hopes, fears, problems, and stories. But it also works because—plain and simple—it rocks. The melodies are backed with force and the emotions are backed with authenticity. You put it in your stereo and it just sounds right.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.