Monday, July 26, 2010

The Radio Dept. - Clinging to a Scheme

If you've followed Swedish pop outfit the Radio Dept. at all through the last few years, you're well aware by now that the group is not afraid to try new things. Although the catalogue includes only three full-length albums, each release marks new directions the band has taken during its career; from the lo-fi shoegaze of 2003's Lesser Matters to the 80s-inspired fuzz-pop of 2006's Pet Grief, the Radio Dept. are known for experimenting with their sound. Here's the fundamental question, however: why change a reliable and ultimately satisfying formula? If it isn't broken, in other words, why "fix" it?

Yes, the Radio Dept. have used perfectly successful devices on each album for creating atmospheric melodies and charming hooks - approaches that didn't necessarily require altering or improving. They don't seem interested in change for the sake of change, though; rather, any adjustments in sound have helped forward the band's natural evolution. On their third album, Clinging to a Scheme, for instance, it is evident that the band is continuing to mature organically, retaining their idiosyncratic sensibilities but adopting new techniques that complement and expand upon them. That is, while their newest release is wholly distinct from previous efforts, it is unmistakably a Radio Dept. album.

Every song still highlights the airy, gorgeous, and seemingly effortless vocals associated with the Radio Dept. - arguably their greatest strength as a band - and the dreamy quality of their sound is still safely intact. Furthermore, their unique and subtle brand of shoegaze continues to underlie their melodies in songs like "This Time Around," "The Video Dept.," and "Four Months in the Shade," as if paying homage, in playful twee fashion, to bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and New Order. This time around, however, many of their tracks are accented by sunny Balearic beats and rhythms, namely the delightful and catchy "Heaven's on Fire," an effect that brings to mind fellow Swedish acts like jj, the Tough Alliance, and Air France (jumping on that bandwagon was inevitable, I suppose). And album highlight "Never Follow Suit" even samples reggae stylings - while the excellent "David" forwards a type of 90s house-funk.

That being said, sampling such new, disparate styles and proving their willingness to mature musically - while staying true to their original vision - makes Clinging to a Scheme their most exciting album to date. It's as dense as it is light and breezy, and in only ten songs the Radio Dept. leave an indelible impression that will likely resonate and lend itself to many of 2010's "best" lists. And even though it's too early to predict a release date for the group's fourth release, I'm already curious about the direction it will take.


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