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

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.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.