As far as I’m aware, and I’m most basically talking about Americans here, there are extremely few people who have heard a song by The Radio Dept. before. The simple reason why is that their album releases are few and far between, and they don’t do a ton of touring. And I suppose the fact that they’re from Sweden, home to about 10 doxen other great bands with pop sensibilities doesn’t do much to distinguish them from everyone else. At the same time, I’ll readily say that while The Radio Dept.’s music definitely sounds like I’ve heard it somewhere before from another band, I can never quite place exactly what band that might be. Okay, that’s not entirely true. They may not have the same sort of overall pastiche, but often when listening to The Radio Dept. I think of how this music might have been written and released by The Cocteau Twins or New Order in their early days. I suppose it’s the dream pop nature of the band and that they’re given to use a fair amount of synths (often distorted in a completely good way). And while I don’t quite feel like The Radio Dept. are cut from the same quality cloth that both those bands were, I do consider their first two albums, “Lesser Matters” and “Pet Grief” to be something of modern-day classics. Both are albums that feel largely crafted out of time, with blissful pop songs that are both obscure and heartwarming at the same time. I think that largely has to do with how they mix their records, unafraid to put crackling synths or guitars forward as the dominant elements in most every song, while Johan Duncanson’s vocals get treated with an echo effect that tends to bury his singing and make the lyrics sometimes hard to decipher. You simply let the sound wash over you and bask in the soothing voice that seems to draw you in from afar. Simply put, it’s wonderful. That being said, The Radio Dept. are finally ready to release their first album since 2006’s “Pet Grief”. The new one is called “Clinging To A Scheme” and you can buy it in the U.S. on Tuesday.
So, what has changed in The Radio Dept.’s camp since 4 years ago? Well, in a similar vein to “Pet Grief” and perhaps taken to even the next level, the band has gotten a bit lighter. You listen to the noise-heavy recordings of 2003’s “Lesser Matters” and then “Clinging To A Scheme” back to back and there’s a world of difference. What stays the same though is the band’s knack for crafting memorable and addictive melodies, and the placement of instruments at the forefront with Duncanson’s vocals again slightly back in the mix. There’s also, as per usual, a fair number of samples used across the record, from snippets of people talking about graffiti art and the music industry, to birds and insect noises. These effects continue to add to the already compelling songs and give many of them a more unique twist. As is typical for this band, they continue to forego live drumming, instead relying on pre-programmed drum machine bits, and while that provides the additional challenge when it comes to deviating from an already established melody, somehow that doesn’t become painfully obvious unless you’re really looking for it. Basically just enjoy the ride and have some fun, because as dreamy and fuzzy as this thing gets sometimes, much of it remains danceable.
Do I have any problems with this record? Aside from the band’s basic formula remaining intact and without a ton of variation (which doesn’t really bother me), “Clinging To A Scheme” represents another solid notch in The Radio Dept.’s already great catalogue. Flanked by great pop singles like “Heaven’s On Fire” and “David,” you get a pretty good idea of what to expect across the rest of the album. If you’re asking me though, the cleverly named song “The Video Dept.” is perhaps the band’s strongest song in quite awhile, and one that essentially tells you exactly what The Radio Dept. are all about. That’s the undeniable highlight in a record full of delights. Yes, I absolutely recommend that you get a copy of this album should you be so inspired. I wouldn’t classify it as the best The Radio Dept. have to offer, but it comes quite close to it. You may not hear me talk about this record when it comes to listmaking time in December, but rest assured that if it doesn’t make it onto that “Top 50”, rest assured it’s probably number 51 or something like that.