Monday, May 2, 2011

Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010 - The Radio Dept

Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010

The Radio Dept.
Labrador Records.

SCQ Rating: 73%

There’s only one write-up featured within the luxurious, photo-packed liner pages of The Radio Dept’s first compilation but, as long as its insights belong to Johan Angergard, one write-up is all we need. Well-utilized musician and founder of Labrador Records, Angergard lays his complicated history with the band on the table: “There’s been fights and threats regarding contracts, they’ve cancelled more interviews than all the other bands I’ve worked with altogether, they are unworldly time optimists (they can miss a deadline by three years), they’ve demanded – and received – so much advances that we haven’t been able to pay our bills, I’ve had to bribe them with drugs to persuade them to talk to selected parts of the press, they’ve been so soundly pissed off when a colour of their artwork didn’t turn out exactly the shade they intended… etc… the story goes on.”

Naturally, Angergard goes on to announce that The Radio Dept’s music – whenever it actually arrives – makes the whole list of frustrations worthwhile. Still, as someone who purchased this 2CD release for the sole purpose of comprehending what all of The Radio Dept’s hype is about, I couldn’t help but find Angergard’s whole situation a bit ridiculous. I mean, seriously - who do these guys think they are? Of course, I already had a pretty good idea, having strained to hear Clinging To a Scheme as anything more than a mediocre record; one too careful and self-contained to ever catch its listeners off-guard. But I was virtually alone in my stance on The Radio Dept, those critical darlings, and struggled to understand how any trio so tepid in musical output could get away with such an uncompromising business sense.

Looking back, I was listening with the wrong expectations, the wrong ears. I was listening for dynamics that a posse of weathered music critics could nod appreciatively to, for a songwriting voice that in any way felt unique. Truth is, this music should best be judged within the confines of Angergard’s vent-session, in that The Radio Dept’s great strengths are their fine attention to detail and the paranoid-to-the-point-of-delusional way in which their protectiveness keeps these songs so clean and untarnished. There’s little point in differentiating between songs and their specific draws, as each slice of indie-pop flutters between gauzy textures, crisp electronics and disconnected vocals. Fittingly, the first disc of A sides doesn’t showcase a serious leap in quality from the latter disc of B sides; further proof of The Radio Dept’s painstaking efforts to find harmonic, tuneful equilibrium at every turn.

Even in Angergard’s most unnerved reflections it’s clear that The Radio Dept are embracing not just a collection of their singles which, combined, look prolific, but a combative legacy as well. In a small but crucial pond like Labrador Records or the Swedish music scene at large, such a legacy may pull its weight. For those of us who view The Radio Dept as a satisfactory band to spend an hour with, however, Passive Aggressive earns its humble keep as the band’s most dependable and generous offering.

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