Indie pop band deserves play
American pop music is in a coma, brought on by the industry drowning its sorrows in Disney stars and American Idols. Consequently, popular music has become more of an act than an art. All the while, Europe maintains a strong pop music culture that is accessible to a mainstream audience.
In 2003, Swedish pop band The Radio Dept. debuted and proved to rival its influences in musicianship. On April 20, they released their third studio album Clinging to a Scheme. This album can be easily described in one short phrase: Synth with class.
Too often is the synthesizer used as a tool to add layers to an already thin texture. Instead, listeners are left with an absurd amount of high frequencies being shoved down their throats. Synths are meant to color a band’s sound and create another instrument that can be used for background foundation or solo features. Though The Radio Dept. didn’t debut with the synth as a main focus, they have been able to incorporate the instrument into their mix in a practical way. However, some fans bailed after their second album Pet Grief, because of the strong attention it gave to the new-age synth sound.
Clinging to a Scheme starts with strong bass underlining lofty, light and layered guitar riffs. Harmonization is used in both vocals and guitars to create a full sound, and gives a strong foundation for the pianist. From there, The Radio Dept. finds itself by channeling its influences. First comes The Smiths in “Heavens on Fire.” They take the next few tracks to feature minimalist themes that stay constant throughout the song, yet maintain originality. The lyrics are on the same par as their ‘80s pop influences such as Pet Shop Boys. These tracks never get boring, nor do they diminish by the end of the album. Sometimes groups tend to fit the best tracks in the first half of the album – for instance, MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular was amazing until the end of “Kids,” then loses all musical value. With Clinging to a Scheme, I could listen to the whole album once or twice over and be ready for another read.
“A Token of Gratitude”, perhaps The Radio Dept.’s best track, is a romantically expressive piece with lyrics and vocal melodies that exceed most popular bands’ imagination. But it’s the rhythm of the song that makes it so unique. It keeps a steady pattern the entire track, but moves the rhythmic line to showcase various percussive platforms, giving it a great dynamic that most bands don’t achieve.
Some parts of the album may not please listeners that don’t favor the synth feel. “Four Months in the Shade” is one of these, and it admittedly does get a bit redundant at times.
Some of you may write these guys off as another tweeny-glam group, but if you are in the mood to give pop another chance, this is the album to do it with. In its entirety, this album creates an outlet for my indie pop craving without the superficial stardom that our society’s music culture subscribes to.