Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Clinging To a Scheme - The Radio Dept

Clinging to a Scheme

The Radio Dept
Labrador Records.

SCQ Rating: 63%

The Radio Dept has long held a coveted seat in the indie world’s VIP room, with little more than two full-lengths and an assortment of collectibles to show for it. I won’t contend the worth of those records as I’ve yet to hear them but if their quality is equivalent to 2010’s delayed-forever Clinging to a Scheme, I motion to make a vacancy of The Radio Dept’s lofty seat. The production value is unmistakable and the instrumentation is likewise ear-catching on first spin, but the time when a record like Clinging to a Scheme would’ve been unique, let alone groundbreaking, has passed by a solid half-decade. Now it’s just fashionably phoned-in.

For the sake of this reading like a review, however, instead of a one-sided rant, let’s look at the record’s noteworthy moments. With interlaced acoustics and restrained piano, ‘A Token of Gratitude’ captures all the calm and emotional resonance of a rainy afternoon while the decidedly more muscular ‘David’ sets its sights on hard-hitting Balearic pop. Perhaps most surprisingly visceral is ‘The Video Dept’, a crashing anthem of lo-fi electrics and warbling vocals that rises from a basement-venue’s dirge into a live-off-the-floor jam. Is it actually live, me thinks not, considering Clinging to a Scheme’s tweaked-clean production, but the energy of the track manages to keep listeners actively in tune. Finally, ‘Four Months In the Shade’ evokes some of the fanatical descriptors I’ve caught in the past regarding this trio, as the densely arranged track – collaging found-sound ambience against gritty breakbeats – gives me a glimmer of The Radio Dept’s notorious back-catalogue. None of these pleasant entries distract from the overall feeling that The Radio Dept sound like just another polite act from rural England or snowy Scandinavia, gauzy but polite, sophisticated yet wholly benign. It’s a well-formed, summery record with a surface-level of emotion that hasn’t the depth to do much else.

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