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Radar Brothers

Radar Brothers

Eight

Merge

When the Radar Brothers are in peak form, as they were throughout the vast majority of And the Surrounding Mountains (2002) and have been on isolated tracks since, they are capable of creating music that evokes something close to ecstasy. In these rarefied sonic spaces, which exist for no longer than a typical rock song or sometimes even a chorus, the listener is suspended amid a grand collision of the bittersweet and the beautiful; whatever magic they contain is at once enveloping and inspiring, immediate and ageless.

Three albums ago, with The Fallen Leaf Pages (2005), there were signs that peak form was proving more elusive than it had been on the three releases that preceded it. Creative atrophy had set in, followed by discontentment and frustration, qualities that became manifest in the monotony of the material and the subsequent departure of founding members Senon Williams and Steve Goodfriend soon after Auditorium arrived in 2008, which left frontman Jim Putnam alone to decide to carry on or call it quits.

Then came The Illustrated Garden (2010), and with it signs of new life. At the time it seemed more than coincidental that the introduction of bassist Be Hussey and drummer Stevie Treichel, subtly acknowledged by a slight name change from Radar Bros. to the more expansive Radar Brothers, had come alongside tracks like “Chickens” and “For the Birds,” some of the band’s strongest output in years. But there had been moments of promise before, songs like “Dark Road Windows” and “Warm Rising Sun,” which, as would become evident in retrospect, were precisely that — mere moments, fleeting delights — and hadn’t been direct precursors of a forthcoming return to peak form at all. Instead, they were lingering embers of a fire that had blazed in an increasingly distant past.

With the Radar Brothers’ latest LP, however, it’s clear that the highlights of Illustrated Garden weren’t flukes. They were preludes to the magnificence of Eight, on which Putnam, Hussey, and Treichel, along with a trio of newcomers, Dan Iead (guitar, pedal steel), Brian Cleary (keyboards), and Ethan Walter (piano, synthesizers), appear to have cast off all fetters and allowed themselves to drift uninhibited into a cosmos of possibility.
-wm The essence of the Radar Brothers is still there — Putnam’s thin, wavering falsetto; recurring lyrical motifs like forests, friends, faith, mythology, and death; backdrops of sleigh bells and droning synthesizers — but these familiar elements are now augmented by the exhilaration of exploration, which helps to make their sonic spaces roomier, more elaborate, less predictable, and more consistent throughout. The high water mark is “Ebony Bow,” unmistakably Radar Brothers, but also, in a word, trippier. When the chorus and outro hit, so do the prickles of ecstasy. Guitar notes arc across the cupola like shooting stars. Keyboards drench the scene in exuberant, Van Gogh-like swirls. And the vocals swell into a melancholic choir.

“If We Were Banished” is Putnam’s Paradise Lost, and aspires to the same epic level within the limits of its four-minute running time. A high-pitched keyboard accompanies the singer’s wispy vocal notes like a bouncing karaoke ball. Then comes a shoegazer wash of guitars underpinned by a drum machine loop. And that in turn is followed by the thundering thwack of Treichel’s Albini-style drums as Putnam broods on a singalong mix of Cartesianism and an Edenic fall from grace: “To know you are Adam/ To you know you are.”
-wm If album openers are typically manifestos, “If We Were Banished” rightly declares Eight to be musically ambitious without abandoning the languorous reverie that has defined the band’s sound since the early EPs in the late ’90s. There are fewer philosophical flashes of that same reverie in songs like “Couch,” which begins with Putnam reminiscing about a slipper dog named Henry (“Some things, they hurt his brain”). But the ambition and ecstasy are still there, delicately stitched into the verse sections, where a reversed guitar track fades in and out behind a twangy, countrified melody, and the chorus, during which Iead’s weepy pedal steel dips and soars over Hussey’s thudding bass.

“Change College of Law” is one of the most psychedelic songs in the band’s repertoire. In the way it darts from an almost monastic meditation to a transcendental catharsis, it wouldn’t be out of place on an album by The Church. And though “Disappearer” (not a Sonic Youth cover, sadly) is perhaps the most classic-sounding Radar Brothers track on Eight. This is thanks in part to its rapturous chorus framed by meticulous piano notes. It is right at home with the brawny, distorted blues rock of “Angler’s Life.”

In its standard vinyl and MP3 formats (CD, we hardly knew ye), Eight will close with “Horse Down,” an exquisitely beautiful act of drawing of the blinds on the fading sunlight (“It’s going to be a long night ahead,” Putnam sings several times in refrain). The iTunes version of Eight comes with two bonus tracks: “Maggie” and “Monkey Deck.” While not essential (“Maggie” sounds like a holdover from 1999’s The Singing Hatchet, and “Monkey Deck” would make an acceptable B-side), at the very least they serve to prolong an album that many listeners, I suspect, will never want to end.

Radar Brothers: radarbros.com

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Music Reviews

Crystal Method

Crystal Method

Legion of Boom

V2

Consider for a moment the dilemma of the electronic(a) band — you can make records out of synthetic sounds that are great from the dance floor to a pair of headphones, but when the time comes to head into the studio to record a song, not just make a record, well… that’s what separates the adults from the kiddies. This is what truly great acts from Eurythmics to Underworld have understood. Crystal Method’s problem, on this album anyway, is that they’re much better at the synthetic sounds than at that pesky songwriting.

To their credit, the duo — Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland — clearly have ambitions in this direction. Guest vocalists abound, of whom Lisa Kekula and Hanifah Walidah come off best on “Realizer” and “Wide Open,” respectively. “American Way” gets a good vibe going in the intro, but as soon as Rahzel, from the Roots, starts in, it turns into just another goddamn electronica/rap hybrid.

Tracks like the Coldcut-like “I Know It’s You,” “Weapons of Mass Distortion” and “Acetone” let Crystal Method do what they do best — groove — and show them to better advantage. On the whole, though, Legion of Boom is diverting for a couple of tracks, not at all unpleasant for a handful of others, but you’ll have to love synthetic sound for its own sake a lot to believe it’s more.

Crystal Method: http://www.thecrystalmethod.com/

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Music Reviews

Acetone

Acetone

York Blvd.

Vapor

Slow moody beauty. The first song touches upon some slowcore alt.country indie ramble, kinda like Dean Wareham singing Whiskeytown songs with Low playing along. Not all the songs swirl downtempo like that, as they start rocking out in the second song, thick and heavy, but still holding on to that hint of desert night. Acetone move steadily and full of certainty through their songs, alongside bands like the Willard Grant Conspiracy, American Music Club, and maybe you get the idea. American lullabies with electric guitar.

Vapor Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505

Categories
Music Reviews

Acetone

Acetone

Acetone

Vapor

In some ways, Acetone has really changed since their Vernon Yard debut Cindy. Filled with big, psychedelic-inspired rock, that was a loud, pushy album that filled the room and the space in your head with great hooks.

Then came the band’s EP I Guess I Would. A 180 degree turn in style, Acetone’s sound was now one of blissful psychedelic waves slowed down and synched up with an old school country feel. Whether it was too many drugs or too much time spent listening to Mazzy Star, the Velvet Underground, and Low, Acetone turned down the amps and extended the atmosphere.

The best part: it was a delightful change that few bands could accomplish. Fast forward through a similar album and a label change and pow, we wind up with their newest album, self-titled to throw off the new fans. Ironically enough, Acetone might have been better suited for their new Neil Young label during their early days. No matter, Acetone is a wonderfully mellow album that Vapor has done well to encourage.

From the opening hook of “Every Kiss,” it’s evident that this is a well-crafted album. Dusty, suited for a smoke of something and a bottle of whiskey, this music stays engaging despite its mellowness. Acetone’s power lies in their subtlety and the art of true song sculpting. It’s a beautiful blend that is demonstrated not only in the music, but through the quiet harmonies and the wafting hooks as well. This might be a quiet album, but one that is far from boring. Vapor Records, 2644 30th St., Santa Monica, CA 90405; http://www.vaporrecords.com