There’s something worth tuning to in Radio Berlin, the Canadian band whose third record this is. As a naïve American, I sometimes think of Canada as an agreeable but cold place. With this gloomy, rhythm-driven recording — it was recorded in a big warehouse and sounds like it — Radio Berlin sings out their Canadian roots as clear and bracing as a blast of Arctic air.
Easily — perhaps too easily — lumped in with “neo-wave” bands like Interpol, they seem at first blush to have a little more going for them. For openers, we get the first song “Gauze” which is so David Bowie circa 1980 that when they started crying “Fashion! Fashion!” I was relieved to decide that it was homage and not rip-off. Post-punk is often a way into my heart, but the romance rarely lasts — say, anybody know whatever happened to The Damage Manual? — as long as I’d like. On the other hand, a lot of bands from the early-’80s, post-punk’s point of reference, only lasted a season, so maybe we’re just reliving it as it happened. Later tracks like “The Hyphen” — great title, guys and gal — and “Aftermath” add new wave to the mix, which for me is a lot like meeting a girl with breasts and brains. The first turns your head, the second keeps you interested.
Vocals are shared by Jack Duckworth and Chris Frey, who also play guitar/keyboards and bass guitar, respectively. However there’s no indication as to who is singing on each track. Whichever they are, they fluctuate between being fairly emotionless — not an insult, necessarily — and reasonably animated — not necessarily a compliment. One is a tenor and the other a baritone, and for what it’s worth I prefer the tenor; the baritone’s a little raspy. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t work for him.
Lyrics, similarly unsigned, are on their own generally of the high school poetry level: “Never was so alone. Frailty’s so alone.” But matching them to the music makes a dandy paring. The song that’s currently getting the best reception from me as candy for the ears that’s not embarrassing to the brain is “D.E.S.”
You’re not likely to hear a P. Diddy song segue into Radio Berlin on your radio anytime soon — though he might come looking them up when he needs a new artist to rip off — but I look forward to seeing what we do hear from them in the future. The wax is still wet and they can put their stamp in it.