Radio 4: Gotham!

Radio 4
Gern Blandsten

Having grown jaded by what had become the definitive portrait of the indie/math rock aesthetic throughout the 1990s — a sulking, shiftless-when-idle mentality juxtaposed with sarcastically witty lyrics and contemplative, intricate instrumentation that one can only stand motionless to and with blank facial expressions — New York’s Radio 4 formed in 1999 to offer the antithesis of that formulaic tedium.

Debuting with their ultra-catchy, anthemic seven-inch single (“Beat Around The Bush” / “Communication”), Radio 4’s logic has stayed its course: a defiant belief in its post-punk-influenced stance of rhythm, movement and ultimately, to hit the post-punk dance floor and get down. Employing a minimalist, sparse technique in its guitar-bass-drums line-up for their first long-player, 2000’s The New Song and Dance, Radio 4 achieved maximum infectious grooves while wearing the influences of late ’70s Brit-punk on their proverbial sleeves. Reverberating from Anthony Roman’s (ex-Garden Variety) booming, melodic bass-lines, Tommy William’s clattered guitar scratch and Greg Collins’s skittish beats, was a propensity towards Gang of Four/Clash/Elvis Costello-like anthems intended to provoke audience reaction: a dance-inducing reaction absent from this pretentious underground rock scene for too many years.

While The New Song and Dance was short on originality, the following Dance to the Underground EP proved long on the pop hooks and on a newly implemented percussion bent, a la Liquid Liquid and ESG — both obscure, rhythmic New York bands whose influences figure prominently on this, Radio 4’s sophomore effort, Gotham!. Trading the minimalist posture of those earlier efforts for omnipresent mind-fucked electronics to fill in the sound gaps, courtesy of the hip-ass production team of Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy (past credits include Primal Scream, Trans Am, The Rapture and Turing Machine) and new keyboardist Gerard Garone, this New York quintet has produced the hook-saturated, dance-rock record of 2002, replete with post-punk fortitude that just dares you to move your ass.

From vocalist Roman’s first words spat on the opening track “Our Town” (“New electric sounds, rattle underground”), the constant bass pulse and the synth cacophony of blips, bleeps and squeaks universal throughout Gotham!, it is, indeed, new electric sounds. Gone are the Costello and Clash transparencies of The New Song and Dance; in its place, an aesthetic that translates as Radio 4’s own. Melody and flow define Gotham! as its songs segue into one another breathlessly, ostensibly constructed to be played straight through at a club. Addictive rockers such as “Start a Fire”, “Eyes Wide Open”, and “Calling All Enthusiasts” are accentuated by Williams’s serrated, funky guitar workouts, while “Red Lights Again”, “Speaking in Code”, and “Pipe Bombs” explore hypnotic dub inflections. Meanwhile, “Struggle” and “End of the Rope” should incite a dance riot. Unlike The Rapture and Liars, who share in the movement philosophy but utilize a more angular and anarchic pose, Radio 4’s Gotham! is a near-perfect hybrid of perpetual rhythm, flow and hooks — it would be an impossible task not to move and be moved to songs this good.