Friday, May 12th, 2006
The Worst Taste In Music
Expectations in music are a tricky thing. As a fan, do you have the right to be disappointed if an artist produces a work that wasn’t what you were hoping for? Are they beholden to their public or to their muse? Consider Sweden’s Radio Dept. Their debut, Lesser Matters, was a glorious blend of Belle & Sebastian twee and Jesus & Mary Chain fuzz and is easily one of my favourite albums of the last few years. So it’s natural that I expected great things from their follow-up Pet Grief. Sure, last year’s This Past Week EP was mostly devoid of distortion and didn’t suffer for it, but I admit I hoped that was a detour more than a direction. As it turns out, not so much.
On Pet Grief, the band have not only traded in their their fuzz pedals, but the settings on their drum machines higher than 100bpm in exchange for keyboards keyboards and more keyboards. It’s a very gentle record start to finish, and while Lesser Matters didn’t exactly burn the house down, it had its share of more upbeat mope. It recalls a more melancholic Pet Shop Boys or perhaps an indie pop Depeche Mode – there’s still a light brushing of gauze over the whole affair, but nothing like the shortwave static beauty of the debut. Another point of reference might be Belle & Sebastian’s “Electronic Renaissance”, though not as buoyant or caught up in the novelty of trying something completely outside the box. It’s not all synths and pads though – “Every Time” reintroduces guitars into the mix but even those are mixed down and politely. Drums, however, remain almost resolutely of the electronic variety and this time it sounds more like an conscious aesthetic decision than necessity. The melodies and songwriting is still ace, but it’s such a sedate affair that I can’t help but be a little frustrated with it.
And this is where my initial question about expectations comes in – my initial reaction to Pet Grief was disappointment, bordering on great. But the more I listen, I realize that it has its charms and these become more evident the more I listen to it and what it actually is supplants what I wanted it to be in my mind. But if my opinion plateaus at it being okay but no Lesser Matters, am I being fair to it by only considering it in contrast to its predecessor? Would someone who’s never heard the first record have a much more positive opinion of it and would their perspective, being unskewed and impartial, be more correct? Of course the correct answer is that there is no correct answer. Opinions, everyone’s got one, blah blah. But it’s still an interesting point to consider. But as it is, Pet Grief has not earned the heavy rotation that I’d hoped it would – I think that’s at least a fair, objective statement of fact.
But something that either camp will agree on is that the band is criminally underrecognized, but that may be on the verge of changing. Oh No They Didn’t’s LiveJournal has an interview with Sofia Coppola (by her mom) about her next film Marie Antoinette, which will feature three Radio Dept songs on the soundtrack. Everyone’s already seen the New Order-soundtracked trailer, but here’s a new talkie one. Could this exposure be the band’s big break? Hey – look what Lost In Translation did for Kevin Shields! Oh yeah – nothing. The movie is out October 13.
Import prices for the record from Labrador aren’t bad at all, and still might even be cheaper than the domestic prices you’ll find it for on May 30 when it gets released over here (via The Big Ticket). Hey, your call. Here’s a couple tracks from Pet Grief including the first single – very smooth and refined – and a couple of Lesser Matters-era tracks including a live one from earlier on in the band’s career – very rough and fuzzy. Compare and contrast. And as a bonus, there’s a lovely track I posted a while back that’s taken from some rare Swedish comp – one of their best. Also hit up YouTube for a few videos if you require visual aids. There’s loads more media at Labrador and there’s an officially unofficial MySpace page.
MP3: The Radio Dept – “The Worst Taste In Music”
MP3: The Radio Dept – “A Window”
MP3: The Radio Dept – “Pulling Our Weight”
MP3: The Radio Dept – “Where Damage Isn’t Already Done” (live at UImea Open, Molma 2003)
MP3: The Radio Dept – “The Hide Away”
BrooklynVegan has been hard at work playing connect the dots with Jens Lekman, The Concretes, Frida Hyvonen and non-Swede New Buffalo. The St Paul Pioneer Press talked to the Concretes’ Victoria Bergstrom about their ongoing North American tour.
Lekman is doing a North American tour this July but sadly, has no plans at present to visit us up here. But Prefix helpfully points out a couple of live Jens videos via Le Blogotheque, recorded by Matieu Saura, aka Vincent Moon:
This was going to be an epic-length Scandanavian post, but it was getting way too long so I’ve cut it into two. Check back tomorrow for more.
np – The Mountain Goats / Babylon Springs