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The Radio Dept.

Clinging to a Scheme

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: Shelflife/Labrador

Undoubtedly a tortoise in the race of releasing records, the Swedes known as the Radio Dept. finally saw their third full-length, Clinging to a Scheme, drop at the end of April. Though the album was originally due in 2008, its release didn’t get much further than a single, “Freddie and the Trojan Horse,” that, oddly enough, ends up not even appearing on this 2010 release. For a band that’s been making noise in some incarnation since the mid-’90s, a catalog consisting of a measly three records may give the impression the group is taking their minimalist genre a bit too seriously. But reprieve is offered to fans of the Radio Dept. through consistently good collections of songs, the latest of which is no exception.

With the Radio Dept. citing influences such as Joy Division and the Pale Fountains, it’s no surprise that whispery vocals and fuzzy guitars are part of their repertoire. Beyond those qualities that tend to be associated with more torn-up, angst-ridden songs, the band offers breezy background noise that lightens up the entire album. Piano, horns, strings and woodwinds- essentially anything that can be made into a hazy dreamscape- make an appearance on most tracks of Clinging to a Scheme. On the surface, this record may sound like just another float-y indie band byproduct, but its small intricacies set it far apart from its fellows.

A steady swell of muted synth brings body to the oaky bass and tempered guitar in opening track “Domestic Scene” while Johan Duncanson sings: “Domestic scene what’s missing here?/ Leaving just in time/ Social climbers at the frontier/ But I refuse that climb,” starting off the first of many songs that seem to corner the pressures of the mainstream. Variation in the band’s style is everywhere in this much-awaited release, from the charmingly disco-esque tinkling of “Heaven’s on Fire” to the trance-inducing synth slides of the brief “Four Months in the Shade”. The two constantly used devices in this album are Duncanson’s muted vocals and the omnipresent drum machine backing them up.

“This Time Around” and “The Video Dept.” offer some pick-up to the record’s pace, taking beach rock rhythms and pairing them with an orchestrated backing, while the aptly titled “Never Follow Suit” diverges from the record’s beaten path, with its ’80s-inspired synth and reggae rhythms. Fans that have been eagerly awaiting the newest from The Radio Dept. will recognize the 2009 single “David” and its left-field hip hop beats, which, while not exactly getting more than a “huh?” upon its initial release, has grown on me for its fusion of thumping beats and echo-y chiming.

An obvious track to praise is the final bow of Clinging to a Scheme, “You Stopped Making Sense.” With its lullaby build and surprisingly light-hearted backing, Johan croons, “You stopped making sense/ You stopped caring about your friends/ I want to come closer” with a powerful effect. Its trilling guitars, tinny vocals and influx of chiming sounds making it one of the prettiest and most bittersweet songs on the album, building to the haunting call to its subject: “Don’t say goodbye…

If Clinging to a Scheme is at all a departure from what The Radio Dept. previously brought to the table, it is one that points to progress. While the Lund-dwelling trio, in all its line-up changes, has always been a brand of particular shoegazing indie pop; it isn’t until now that it has presented itself with such confidence. Re-emerging with maturity, this long dormant project has succeeded in proving that they were worth the wait. In fact, I’d like to turn a line from the band’s own lyrics around on them, taking a cue from “A Token of Gratitude” to say, “Please accept this as a token/ Of my sincere gratitude/ I’m not joking.”

by Sam Gordon
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