[7 April 2005]
Sometimes, ambition is overrated. Your parents, your teachers, Casey Kasem—they all told you to keep reaching for the stars. But the simple fact of the matter is that greatness—true, transcendent greatness—just isn’t in the cards for most of us. Bands too. The folly of many a band was thinking that it was really going to make a difference. That it was going to blaze a new trail; that it was going to prove over the course of a career that there was nothing in the realm of music that it couldn’t conquer. This obviously hasn’t stopped many bands from trying, but the fact remains that for most bands, if they are good at anything at all, it’s usually just one thing, and they should stick to that one thing.
So that’s why it’s nice to have a band like the Radar Bros. The L.A. trio does one thing, and it does that one thing very well. Every three years or so they emerge with a new batch of crisp, elegant dirges that serve as an appropriate soundtrack to overnight drives down empty interstates. The Fallen Leaf Pages is the group’s fourth record, and it sounds a lot like their third record, which was quite similar to the second one, which had a striking resemblance to the first one. This is obviously by design, though, as the Radar Bros. have found a formula that works for them, and it’s one that not too many other bands are using these days.
It basically works like this. Start with some gentle, largely acoustic strumming. Add a sparse, plodding drumbeat. Enter singer Jim Putnam, who manages to get the most out of his sleepy voice, often scaling up and down, rarely staying on the same note for consecutive syllables. He sings rather wearily and vaguely about sad subjects, often with lots of outdoor imagery. A non-intrusive lead guitar line is likely to make an appearance at some point. When the chorus hits, the strumming becomes bigger, another element is added—usually some sort of keyboard and often some layered background vocals—and you feel an urge to close your eyes and nod your head very slowly. Repeat a dozen or so times and voila, you’ve got a Radar Bros. album.
If it doesn’t sound all that exciting… well, it’s not really that exciting. But it’s not supposed to be exciting. It’s supposed to be pretty and melancholy. And the songs are still high quality. There aren’t any surprises to be found on songs like “To Remember” or “Papillion”. You know that big chorus is just around the corner and those Wish You Were Here dynamics are still in place. But in a way it’s almost comforting to know exactly what you’re getting into. Bands like Low and the Red House Painters have had similarly one-dimensional careers (until Low’s latest, of course), but remained interesting even as they continually plodded down the same track.
There are a few new touches added on Leaf Pages, such as the children backup singers on the lead track, “Faces of the Damned”, which serves as a brief, minute-long intro to the record. There’s a larger dependence on piano and keyboard throughout the album, which gives the songs a bit more of a classic rock feel, and actually adds a bit of bounce to a few tracks, which is about as close to a surprise as there is. But they can leave the surprises to other bands. The Radar Bros. are the kings of their little corner of the music world, and as long as the results continue to be this pleasing, may their reign continue.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/radarbros-fallen/