The Radio Dept. - Clinging To A Scheme

Sweden's The Radio Dept. takes a hold of you with Clinging to a Scheme's first track "Domestic Scene" via an unparalleled, understated touch of electric finger picking. Then there are the sing-whispered lyrics and the minor tones and all that remains is a feeling of comfort, love and mutual knowledge of some almost film soundtrack-style fate awaiting both yourself and the band. The lyrics, repeated "Leaving just in time" intoned by such delicate and sad music, drops you into an album about fighting, rising, accepting and struggling. A brilliant voice over follows, briefly discussing an overthrow of capitalist control over youth culture, and then enters the jangly, Belle and Sebastian-esque, "Heaven's on Fire" that combines a retro quick guitar riff and distant soft-spoken vocals with keys and lush percussion. And there are horns too. The Radio Dept. brings everything in Clinging to a Scheme, and pulls out all the stops immediately. And they're third release following 2006's Pet Grief is an undisputed masterpiece. Maybe that's because I like sad, shoe-gazey pop, but the album is also unparalleled. Track 3 "This Time Around" brings in a more contemporary sound, reminiscent of early 2000's bands like Creeper Lagoon and Guster, but without the high level of production and sparse instrumentation. Instead, it's solid music that's so layered sometimes it's easy to forget how many different sounds are in play.

"Never Follow Suit" feels like a heavy piano cross between 80s experimental, Radiohead and Gorillaz. Using a strong, funky, nearly reggae beat to supplement a heartfelt melody. And a brief spoken word, near-rap, sample section that does waver on the line between pretension and artistic assertion. It's a beautiful song, musically and in lyrical design. "David" (the band's initial single) plays similarly, relying on a heavy beat and some electro-synth beats to drive the song, while a mournful vocals and spritely chimes and keys fill the gaps. But, The Radio Dept. also represents with straight up guitar rock songs here and there too. "A Token of Gratitude" does just that, providing guitar-centric music without the complexity. And it's a great song in its own right. But the more heavily arranged stuff makes for more compelling listening. And, for me, this is the ideal album, a definite album of the year candidate, because I've reached a point where simplicity is no longer blissful. I need complex music, I need the walls of sound that make an album interesting to hear each time because you can choose to focus once on guitars, once on piano, once on chimes, etc., etc. The Radio Dept. clearly owes a debt, like so many (every?) other bands, to Radiohead for opening the sonic spectrum into new universes. We don't have to be tied creatively, or as audiences, to simple melodies and basic progressions. Maybe this is the new big band, raspy, lush, complicated and beautiful. And even a little overwhelming. The Radio Dept. is the best new album of 2010, hands down. And just because they're relatively obscure shouldn't hinder their place in the ongoing, and continual, "end of year" discussion.

Check them out at theradiodept.com, or via their MySpace. (Or feel free to write Steve Jobs a letter requesting that he NOT shut down Lala, so that music can be freely spread by artists without another corporation sticking it's conflated profiteering ideals in the way.)

Score: 9.5/10

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