REVIEW: Radical Dads - "Rapid Reality"

Radical Dads - Rapid Reality
Record Label - Uninhabitable Mansions
Release Date - May 21, 2013

One of We Listen For You's most popular sections is "What We Talk About When We Talk About Music," wherein we might offer a meta-commentary on what's going on within the idea of music, or perhaps offer critiques of critiques.  It's, as Zach once described it, where we try to police what's going on in indie music.  Underlying the popularity of this section is the uneasy truth that indie music seems to have lost its identity both musically and economically.  It started about 10 years ago with former standard-bearers jumping ship to major labels, with the demise of radio, and with the rapid proliferation of ways to listen. While indie rock becomes more proliferated, its identity more multivalent, and its standard-bearers less and less standard, we end up without an idea to pit identity against.  If indie rock was once independent and is now less so, how do you judge independence against independence?  In other words, if it used to be about being anti-something, what do we do when what we're anti against is always changing?  

So, it's into this uneasy space that records seem to climb these days.  Radical Dads, the Brooklyn-based trio whose second album, Rapid Reality, came out on their own label (Uninhabitable Mansions) seem to be kicking it old school.  With a sound that sound hearkens back to those mid-90s, shit-kicking, straight-ahead rock groups with pithy lyrics recognized as classics, Radical Dads are often described as "retro" or "nostalgic."  Reviewers seem almost reticent to say the words, because they begin from this anti-something mindset which presupposes that things have to be forward-looking or reactive in order to be relevant.  I say this: thank God for Radical Dads.

If there's been one key ingredient that I feel is missing from indie rock, it's what Radical Dads bring to the table -- pure adrenaline-pumping, axe-wielding, unrelenting rockers that blow you off the board through speakers and in a live show.  While history says that second albums tend to verge more to the conceptual as bands seem to test where they can go, Rapid Reality does the opposite by extracting the elemental from Radical Dads first album, Mega Rama, and turning it to overdrive.  Opener "Mountain Town" hammers home themes of erosion and loss through a spinning riff and Carrie Brownstein-esque vocals.  Radical Dads aren't afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves as "Pink Flag" cuts a riff from Wire's seminal record and starts and stops its way into an infectious chorus.

The big change from Mega Rama to Rapid Reality is the emergence of Lindsay Baker.  Baker takes over all of the vocal duties on this record, splitting from the pairing with bandmate Robbie Guertin who split the duties on Mega Rama.  Guertin, who made his name with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! and drums to perfection here, may have influenced the direction of Mega Rama as its compositions were cut from a similar cloth as CYHSY, but here the emphasis lies with Baker's astonishing guitar work and vocals.  "Shackleton," the longest song on the record, splits into a droned section, arcing with a lackadaisical solo amid a storm of feedback.  The ballads on Rapid Reality, "Marine Layer" and "Hi Desert," conjure the ghost of Crooked Rain Crooked Rain while thrusting East Coast concerns on the contradictions of West Coast living.  It's here, as we bump through a different terrain, that Baker's vocals flex their melodic muscles.

More than anything, Rapid Reality is probably the most confident record of the year.  It's as self-assured and blistering as the title track single "Rapid Reality" defines.  If this is retro, I'm not sure I want to go forward.  If it's nostalgic, then that has more to say about what we're listening to than this band.  As Baker sings on "Rapid Reality" -- "Time flies in my direction / you told the papers / when you were questioned / I just don't get it / you were confessing / why break the rules / when we just want to bend them?"


  1. One of the great WLFY referrals of the year. Dead on with speaking to the great confidence that this album projects. Can't get enough.

  2. Hadn't even heard of Radical Dads before, definitely loving them though!
    There is a lot of great new music coming out this year

  3. This is a really thought-provoking article/review - I really like how you reveal some of the contradictions in the backdrop and context of indie music - there are tensions such as bands trying too hard vs trying to look like they're not trying at all, and I think this piece captures these ideas well (and describes the music well too)...