Radiation City: The Hands That Take You

Every interesting songwriting or production choice Radiation City makes on their debut album seems to be accompanied by an equal and opposite questionable songwriting or production choice. It gets to be very aggravating.

Radiation City

The Hands That Take You

Label: Tender Loving Empire
US Release Date: 2011-09-27
UK Release Date: 2011-09-27

Radiation City started as a friendship between singer/keyboardist Lizzy Ellison and guitarist/vocalist Cameron Spies. Before they started the band, the pair founded a DIY record label, Apes Tapes, which releases music only on cassette. As a band, Radiation City seems to draw from a similar outmoded aesthetic. It's tough to tell if Ellison and Spies (along with bassist Matt Rafferty and drummer Randy Bemrose), actually love the '60s genres they're drawing from, or if they're adopting elements of bossa nova, the close harmonies of classic Brazilian pop, and gauzy dream-pop vocals simply because it hasn't been tried by anyone for a while. I suppose the intentions don't matter as much if the results are good. It's when the results are poor that people start to ask questions. On Radiation City's debut album, the results are decidedly middling, which of course just raises further questions.

The Hands That Take You opens with a quiet kick drum beat, accompanied by a percussive rhythm featuring a series of snaps and handclaps, while Ellison softly coos "Do you remember / I remember" Eventually the song, "Babies", coalesces into something a little more upbeat, with a more hard-hitting syncopated rhythm. But there's a laid-back, dreamy quality to the entire track that works nicely. Problems arise because much of the album has that same dreamy, mid-tempo feel. It often seems like The Hands That Take You is one long song with some slight variations along the way; the production choices and track order do the album no favours. Second song "The Color of Industry" has some nice flourishes, like a wonderful harmonized brass interlude followed by an acoustic guitar solo. But the band also makes the decision to turn Ellison's entire lead vocal into a close, three-part harmony that quickly starts to feel oppressive.

It goes on like this throughout the album. Every interesting songwriting or arranging choice the band makes seems to be accompanied by a separate, questionable choice. "The Things You Tell Us" could be a slow, jazzy torch song that spotlights Ellison's ability to do a melancholy lead vocal. But then she slurs her words, which, combined with the production choice to put her vocals right in the middle of the mix, makes the lyrics almost unintelligible. "Summer Is Not An Act 1" works solely in the chorus, when the distractingly synthetic-sounding snare drum that keeps the beat through the rest of the song is absent. The band hits pay dirt with the heavy Latin feel that makes the appropriately-named "Salsaness" maybe the album's only danceable track. But then they follow it up with "Park", a noisy attempt to rock out featuring Spies on lead vocals that, weirdly, only comes alive in the middle when Radiation City gets really quiet and drops the distorted guitars and moog-style synths.

The band's biggest success comes with "Mammals", a song that combines all of their predilections in oddball ways. Spies once again takes the lead vocal here, and the harmonized refrain of "Got no plants only mammals coming after me / It's the ease of living that's devouring me!", accompanied by the entire band thumping along on the beat, is weird in all the right ways. The band also pulls out synthetic drum and keyboard sounds again here to much better effect than earlier on the album. The Hands That Take You essentially ends with "Construction", a song that recalls early '60s pop hits like "Earth Angel" with its slow 6/8 beat and jangly guitar tone. Ellison finally gets the chance to open up and belt it in the song's last minute as she croons "This'll be!" again and again over a long fade-out. And then the band has to go and blunt the impact of that fade-out by including an 80-second reprise of "Summer Is Not An Act" to finish out the album. Interesting choice, questionable choice. That's how it goes for Radiation City. The band is supposedly already at work on their second album; maybe they'll make more interesting choices and less questionable ones the next time out.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

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.