PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Radio Dept.: Clinging to a Scheme

The media hyperbole of perceived 'shoegaze influence' has haunted these Swedish dream-poppers for far too long. Now they respond with a near-perfect album of blissed-out indie-rock, and shed the misconceptions for good.

The Radio Dept.

Clinging to a Scheme

Label: Labrador
US Release Date: 2010-04-20
UK Release Date: 2010-04-19

Nu-gaze. Like glow-fi, it’s one of those manufactured terms that is apt to make a music listener, be it indie rock critic or just casual fan, groan with annoyance. As a rule, people's backs go up at the idea that some convenient, shorthand taxonomy could sum up a band’s entire artistic aim. Usually it’s the sort of thing that’s terribly inaccurate, not even appropriate for a record label’s press kit, and it's the kind of dangerously short-sighted laziness that can actually keep potential new converts away from a deserving band. Nu-gaze? Really? I’ve even heard Titus Andronicus saddled with this term, and I can’t picture a less shoegaze-sounding band if I tried.

Call the Radio Dept. another unfortunate victim of this trend. Their earlier two efforts, Lesser Matters and Pet Grief, were instantly compared by salivating journa-clones to everyone from the cherished My Bloody Valentine to the Cocteau Twins to the effing Pet Shop Boys. Do the Radio Dept. really sound like these bands? That’s up to you. I say no, not really. But one thing’s clear, our Swedish friends are up to far more interesting work on their latest, Clinging to a Scheme, then just aping the nostalgic genres of '90s past.

First single “David” has the kind of surreal trip-hop bounce of latter-day Blur, another group once tagged as indebted to the ghosts of shoegaze past (as hard as that is to believe in 2010). Johan Duncanson has one of those voices that is utterly affecting in its disaffectedness, the apathetic lack of attachment sounding more emotional and harrowing in its defeated glory than any more ragged, extroverted effort by many of his contemporaries. There’s not a hint of over-driven walls of guitar here, just ambient keys breathing away over the beat, spinning into air.

Elsewhere, opener “Domestic Scene” nestles down on a beautiful bed of gently picked guitars before a sample cuts in at the start of “Heaven’s On Fire”. “People see rock and roll as youth culture, and when youth culture becomes monopolized by big business, what are the youth to do?” a concerned voice asks, before the band answers with a good-time party jam that seems to snipe back: “just relax and enjoy it.”

The album holds up this sort of consistency remarkably well over its brief 35 minute running time, moving from JAMC-Joy Division style mash-ups on “This Time Around” to mellow IDM on “A Token of Graditude”. The only hint of shoegaze influence here comes on “The Video Dept.”, which honestly bites more from Chapterhouse and Ride than heavier bands like MBV or Slowdive. The only real misstep here is “Four Months in the Shade”, which comes across as a feedback-soaked Crystal Castles experiment and little more. Thankfully, gears swiftly shift before gorgeous opener “You Stopped Making Sense” takes the wheel. If not for some of the more modernistic instrumentation, this could be one of Belle and Sebastian’s mellower jams, and ends the album on a perfectly appropriate high note.

Hopefully, Clinging to a Scheme will be enough to finally dispel the nu-gaze tag for the Radio Dept., and maybe it will help prove the futility of boxing bands as talented and unique as these into a tiny, neatly-labelled box. Probably not, at least not on the last count, but the fact remains that this is a solid, feel-good winner of an album that applies enough variety to feature in a number of your day to day routines and make them that much more special by association. Isn’t that what all great albums, nu-gaze or not, should do? Make no mistake, this is a very good, and very nearly great, album. So skip the one-sheet classifications, pick it up and judge for yourself.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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