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Radar Bros. - Eight

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Artist: Radar Bros.

Album: Eight

Label: Merge

Review date: Feb. 21, 2013

If Radar Bros. haven’t made a career out of being understated, that part of their reputation certainly stands out. That’s not to say that they tread the minimalist route -- a cursory listen to 2008’s Auditorium quickly dispels that notion -- but even the more orchestrated tracks in their catalog burn slowly. There’s no sprinting through their carefully curated collections of pretty melodies, and the payoffs are rarely, if ever, immediate. Eight is another slow burner but the flame is more ostentatious than we’re used to from the L.A. trio.

Admittedly, Radar Bros. only has one remaining original member, singer/guitarist Jim Putnam. This proves to be simultaneously freeing and familiar regarding the songwriting for Eight. The high-pitched keyboards and whirring that open the album are outright jarring, regardless of Putnam’s soothing baritone. Similarly, the change of direction into a psychedelic vocal collage on the initially sedate “Change College of Law” is also an unexpected twist. If “jarring” seems like an unusual modifier for Radar Bros., “driving” must be similarly underused. Yet, “Reflections” is an unabashed rocker that puts loud and fast guitars at the forefront.

That said, Putnam isn’t trying too many new tricks. The pacing of Eight still remains comfortably at middle-distance-runner speed, even on songs like “Disappearer,” that have sweeping harmonious build ups and a chorus that pleads, “Somebody please give us a sign.” In fact, as Eight reaches skyward in terms of grandeur, it also digs Radar Bros.’ niche deeper in terms of instrumental nuance and outward in terms of lyricism.

Thoughtful lyrics are a hallmark of many Merge acts, and Radar Bros. are no exception. Their debt to folk music remains an important part of the recipe and many of the songs on Eight have either a distinct story line or an overarching theme. Occasionally, the swirling guitar is mixed harder than the straightforward delivery of Putnam’s vocals, as on the excellent “Angler’s Life,” but more often than not, the stories shine through.

These stories aren’t always bright and happy. The chorus of opener, “If We Were Banished” is “This wasn’t supposed to happen today,” and the album closes out with Putnam’s repeated declaration that “It’s going to be a long night ahead.” The songs in between those bookends speak to such sunny themes as drinking to get through a day (“Bottle Song”) and co-dependency (“Couch”). Yet, since the delivery of these potentially depressing stories is so straightforward and matter-of-fact, it may take several listens to grasp the gravitas of the subject matter. And that’s where the band’s reputation for being understated is so well deserved -- the album’s complexities are buried and tucked away. During its softer early moments, “Change College of Law” accurately describes the artistry of the band as Putnam whispers the words “change change,” before knowingly stating, “They will go there still.”

By Valerie Paschall

Other Reviews of Radar Bros.

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The Fallen Leaf Pages


The Illustrated Garden

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