Radar Brothers: The Illuminated Garden

Back with a new lineup, slow-core trio delivers a mixed bag.

Radar Brothers

The Illuminated Garden

US Release: 2010-03-23
UK Release: 2010-03-23
Label: Merge Records

"I’m a deer in your headlights", singer Jim Putnam tells us as the start of this gauzy, languid record, "and I’m a bird in your gunsights." It’s an appropriate beginning to a record rife with animal imagery--song titles include "For the Birds", "Horses Warriors", "Chickens", and even "People"--and lyrics suggestive of self-doubt, bordering on self-loathing.

The Illuminated Garden is either the sixth record from Radar Brothers or their first, depending on your method of accounting: having released five previous records as Radar Bros, the band split, leaving Putnam to restock the rhythm section and carry on with new bassist Be Hussey and drummer Steve Treichel. Longtime fans had reason to wonder what this new incarnation would sound like.

The answer is frustrating. Album opener "Dear Headlights" sets the tone in many ways, with sweet harmonies and hushed lyrics delivered at a slow tempo; the song grows more affecting with repeated listens. But the followup, "Rainbow", struggles to find a tune and fails, while "For the Birds" brings a dirgelike feel to its arrangement of acoustic guitar and calliope-like tootling, reinforced through the plaintive lyrics: "Take me out of this town / Throw me from the bridge / Gray steel girders dance with me / The fish below, they smile." Despite its funereal qualities, the song gains momentum through layered vocals and swelling orchestration, and achieves a rare moment of transcendence. "Quarry" brings a slightly harder edge (but not too hard) and somewhat discordant tone to the guitars, while keeping the tempos unhurried and the mood introspective and vulnerable. "I want you, I need you", we are told. "Right now my life’s on a cereal box." Make of that what you will.

"Horses Warriors", midway through the album, picks up the pace a little, thank God. The lyrics evoke an insular world populated with non sequiturs and mystery: "There, I see you’ve got your pachydermal diary", Putnam sings early on, and, "But the horses and warriors are going to tear you apart, and take all you got / So you might as well sit down and watch the picture show." To the band’s credit, these head-scratchers are delivered with a degree of conviction that saves them from absurdity. The lovely harmonies help, too, as does a galloping beat reminiscent of a band of runaway thoroughbreds.

This is the highlight of the record, and the second half grows weaker with repeated listenings. "Chickens" bring us back in slow-tempo territory, where we dither for much of the rest of the disc. Vocals remain hushed, guitars gauzy, beats slow. There is a thin line between languid and lethargic, and Radar Brothers increasingly fail to stay on the right side of this divide.

The songs work best when the record’s prevailing tone of opiated dreaminess is punctured with moments of unease: "All the birds are just chickens anyway / So we washed the blood from our hands." Unfortunately, such moments are few. While "And the Birds" benefits from a layered upswell of orchestration in the latter half of the song, "Xmas Lights" kills the momentum with some truly wretched singing. By now, the repetitive formula--slow tempos, languid harmonies, shimmery guitar--is delivering diminishing returns. The album closer, “Radio”, despite the most energetic percussion on the record, just sort of putters out.

It remains to be seen whether this new lineup can find more tunes akin to "Dear Headlights" and “Horses Warriors”. If so, great. If not, then Radar Brothers may see its returns diminish even further.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.