Music

The Radio Dept.: Lesser Matters

Jason MacNeil

The Radio Dept.

Lesser Matters

Label: Shelflife
US Release Date: 2003-04-01
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Martin Larsson and Johan Duncanson formed this Swedish group back in 1998. With only two singles to their credit, the pop band rounded out the rhythm section last year for their debut album, one that is already being hailed as a "buzz" album and a masterpiece in their native land. The Radio Dept. are intent on making themselves known for the music, not just for the fact they're following a line of great new Swedish groups. The subtle instrumentation on "Too Soon" is a bit of a space trip but sends the album zooming into "Where Damage Isn't Already Done", featuring a delectable amount of Cure-ish pop guitars and a drum beat that is anything but clean. Fans of Primal Scream and Jesus and Mary Chain will find a lot to like about this song, if not this album. Choppy and dirty, the tone of the album is one of its strongest assets. And thankfully, the producer knew enough to look like he or she didn't know what the hell a soundboard was meant for.

"Keen on Boys" is a touch new wave, but with enough fuzz on it to rival Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or Singapore Sling. The hushed vocals sound like they're being performed in a tunnel, while the cheesy synth keyboards start to take this down an early '80s route. The sweetness of the pop arrangements, though, never falters on this track. It returns to its sonic drawing board time and again as Larsson and Duncanson have a lot of fun trading lead and harmony vocals. "Why Won't You Talk About It" brings to mind New Order caught in pre-produced Purgatory. "I'm losing, I'm losing", the band starts off and you have to believe them on this tune. While you believe the guitars can and will break out like Primal Scream, the backbeat is the propeller. Only near the two-minute mark is the guitar able to break out, but only then minimally and far from full throttle.

"It's Been Eight Years" sounds like an Irish shanty being strangled. The synthetic backbeat again though tends to diminish what is a very good structure. There's a bit of Simple Minds' lead singer Jim Kerr in the voice -- sounding lost but with some shimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The song, though, tends to stagnate throughout, making it a disappointment. "Bus" is similar to its predecessor, unfortunately. The alternative guitar riff gives it a slight post-rock quality while instruments are added as it evolves. One or two lush arrangements wouldn't hurt the band at all, especially on this tune. The buildup is similar to Toronto's the Hidden Cameras or a high-tech Polyphonic Spree, but the song peters out before reaching such heights. The instrumental "Slottet, No. 2" is very pretty and reflective.

"1995" finds The Radio Dept. nailing this track with the passion and performance on equal ground. The vocals and guitars soar as the rhythm and drum take a back seat. Although it could be a bit more gritty or dirty, this is the sort of song to put a smile on one's face. When it's done a hundred times and works each time, don't mess with it. This has a good bridge that could be further explored in a live setting. "Against the Tide" has some background noise and nature as a bland arrangement is salvaged by the sweet harmonies. And the guitars come into the picture at the perfect moment as well. Overall, well done.

"Strange Things Will Happen" is different as Elin Almered takes lead vocals (she also did the album artwork) on this piano-based soft pop tune. "Your Father" resembles Coldplay minus the highly infectious pop sensibilities. The song still seems to carry itself rather well with its mid-tempo tone and Martin-esque vocal deliveries. "Ewan" is stunning and finally has everything in the right place, often recalling New Order's fun side. Thankfully, the guitars are let loose and do not disappoint one iota. "Lost and Found" ends the record with a good deal of momentum. Although there should be a buzz about the album, it's not "the" buzz one should anticipate. Good, and at times very good, but not worth salivating over.

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