[24 November 2002]
Los Angeles, California, the life-in-the-fast-lane hotbed of culture that houses the Slash-less, plastic surgery-impaired reincarnation of Guns ‘n’ Roses, the pseudo-swank celebrity-lined rows cheering basketball’s Lakers, and the saline-enhanced righteous babes splashing around in the pools at Hef’s Playboy mansion could very well be perceived as an unlikely haven for a band on the roster of a quasi-indie enterprise (Merge Records) who master a subtle orch-pop grandeur that bleeds rural landscapes, stoner campfire jams and dusty, deserted roads. But peering through the smog from L.A.‘s tallest palm trees to mellow the bustling masses with a narcotic-induced, slo-mo epic twang are the Radar Brothers.
Led by the perennially lazy indie boy and tranquil-voiced Jim Putnam since 1994, his Radar Brothers survived the fall of their last record label home (SeeThru Broadcasting) as their sophomore effort The Singing Hatchet was released. Enter Superchunk members and label entrepreneurs Mac MacCaughan and Laura Ballance into the equation to save Radar Brothers from obscurity.
Their Merge debut and third long-player is simultaneously gorgeous and melancholy, making And the Surrounding Mountains a fitting title—you would expect to find this quartet nestled in secluded mountainous terrain, strumming their seemingly effortless spacey pop under the bushes and the stars.
Melding Giant Sand’s countrified, home-cooked excursions, Portastatic’s medium-fi epics and Pink Floyd’s psychedelic atmospherics, Putnam and company produce a minimalist aesthetic that is situated between an indie rock and classic rock hard place—all without sounding contrived.
Luminous electric guitar lines intersperse with lazily strummed acoustics in heavenly fashion on “You and the Father”, bringing Mountains to soaring heights on its very first track. However, Putnam’s sleepy-eyed prose and repetitive songwriting nature slow the pace down to a crawl as he delves into a propensity for slow-core. No matter. Putnam’s tedious but mellifluous ‘70s-style lite-pop/country dispel the slow-core notion, while infectious serenity comes to mind as subtle piano and synthesizers coalesce, resulting in angelic balladry (as heard on “This Xmas Eve”, “Sisters” and “The Wake of All That’s Past”).
Not unlike fellow Merge label-mate East River Pipe, Radar Brothers sketch a flawlessly constructed, liquid-smooth pop introspection that resonates with a glow that very few bands can touch upon. When Putnam croons “Waiter, bring us another” on “On the Line”, it seems like the perfect invitation for us to have a beer and soak in The Radar Brothers’ subtle touch.