REVIEW: The Radio Dept. - "Clinging To A Scheme"
Zach Hart Monday, April 26, 2010
The Radio Dept. - Clinging To A Scheme
Release Date: April 27th, 2009
Yes, you are reading this correctly. The Radio Dept.’s newest album is finally here. You can hold it in your hands. You can actually listen to it. Honestly I can’t believe it myself. Four years is a long wait for anything and that is how long it has been since the band released their last full length. Clinging To A Scheme’s final (and somewhat excruciating) release has been a test of any fan’s patience. 2006 was a great year for the band not only seeing the release of the sublime Pet Grief but also with three of their songs featured on the soundtrack for Marie Antoinette. Then: two years of waiting and silence. But after the release of the Freddie and the Trojan Horse EP in the summer of 2008 a September release for the new album was announced and then pushed back. In June of 2009 the band put out the single for “David” with still no solid word on when the hell the new album would be releasing. Yet finally in January word came from the band itself that Clinging would come out in March. Yeah, obviously that didn’t hold. Regardless, here I am, having listened to the album and now reviewing it for you. I still find it hard to believe.
I apologize if this small history lesson feels not only boring but unimportant, however, in the scope of my review it is important to keep in mind. Because if you are a fan like me there is absolutely no doubt that you are going to listen to the album but you are also going to wonder if the wait has been worth it. For the most part the answer to that question is yes. With only ten tracks and about thirty five minutes the album is on the short side but the songs here are quality.
The title Clinging To A Scheme works because over the course of their decade-plus as a band The Radio Dept. have hardly changed their style. They haven’t had to. This is chock full of those moments that made Pet Grief so wonderful. Dream pop and fuzzy vocals have been around for awhile but the band quickly perfected their own niche of sound with these elements and more. Opener “Domestic Scene” is reminiscent of that hushed beauty that stole my ears when I first heard Pet Grief’s opener “It’s Personal.” In the space of two and a half minutes you realize that the band still knows what is going on and what its strengths are. Track two is the obvious single “Heaven’s On Fire” which reflects what the band was doing when they released “David”. Both tracks are luscious pop numbers interlaced with some nicely executed moments of jazz instrumentation.
At first I was very untrustworthy of the album because of how attached I am to everything the band has already done. Cautious because I wasn’t sure how to feel about being tugged around for so long to only wait for ten tracks to be pressed on an album and then sent out in the world. My first listen I was overly critical, enjoying the album almost stubbornly. Continuous listens were also pleasant but I wanted more than to just be pleased—I wanted to be blown away. Somewhere along the course of this album and during one of my many listens I found a specific moment where I understood its similar brilliance to everything else the band had done before. “Four Months In The Shade” is just shy of two minutes, it is an instrumental, it is the second to last track, and it is also wonderful. The song made me realize that even given such a small space of time the band is able to deliver.
For me it is hard to pick out a truly “weak” track from the bundle but I would say that both “The Video Dept.” and “Memory Loss” hit me the least. Both songs possess a pacing that does fit with the greater scheme of the whole album but paired together throw me off for some reason. The former does contain that rough gloss that made Lesser Matters such a hazy wonder while the latter features some emotional and well crafted lyrical work.
After a long enough gestation period, however, I feel that the true standout of this album will be in its closer “You Stopped Making Sense.” This song pieces together not only all the elements of the whole album but elements throughout the band’s career. The Radio Dept. has moments where their music is so somber yet the lyrics give way to this scene of sadness and heartbreak. Often singer Johan Duncanson’s voice is near spoken; plainly delivering a stream of lyrics that weigh heavy on the heart. “You Stopped Making Sense” is a microcosm of that sound—the sound that I love. Yeah, it’s sad-ish but damn if it isn’t completely beautiful.
I can’t help but admit that I wanted more from this album. Not necessarily more quality just more songs; more to soak up. Even in short bursts the band has always remained incredible. Maybe the selection process was a little too picky and the band left off some great songs that could have been added. I’m sure many like me would take about anything they could but are probably going to have to wait for an eventual b-side. Clinging To A Scheme is great. It isn’t a band at their worst or at their best. It is The Radio Dept. doing what they have been doing for so long and that is making not just solid music but a lush sound that hits you deeply. Now we just have to hope that the wait for something new isn’t too long.