The Radio Dept. - Clinging To A Scheme
This is the gentler side of the currently unstoppable shoegaze revival. If The Big Pink are its Oasis, The Horrors its Blur and Dum Dum Girls its Elastica then these guys are probably its Bluetones. The general idea of shoegaze is that, ahem, sonic cathedrals of noise are carved out on guitars and should be played at nosebleed volume, but The Radio Dept. have taken a more considered route altogether. Their sound is nuanced, restrained and only gently bathed in fuzz - perhaps the least amount required to still qualify as shoegaze. Sonic cathedrals are conspicuous only by their absence.
The snippet of recorded dialogue and plangent house chords of opener ‘Heaven’s on Fire’ are almost shamelessly reminiscent of St Etienne circa Fox Base Alpha, and serves to underline a lack of originality. But if The Radio Dept. aren’t exactly pushing the boundaries, they at least knoe how to make some pretty lovely music. ‘Memory Loss’ starts out like it’s going to sound like Young Marble Giants, but changes tack completely, finishing up more like ‘80’s soft rock . The staccato strings and sonic detail of ‘David’ prove equally enjoyable – it’s a big old ballad that fans of fellow Swede Jens Lekman will find it easy to fall for. This is a record that gets better as it goes on, building to a peak with closing track ‘You Stopped Making Sense’.
All told, there’s plenty to recommend this record. The Radio Dept.’s lazy, hazy songs are enjoyable indeed, and clocking in at just thirty three minutes, Clinging to a Scheme never outstays its welcome. If there is a complaint though it’s that all these songs are merely good – there’s no headline grabber, no track that will have you playing it over and over again – a ‘Who Can Say’ from The Horrors or a ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ from Deerhunter. You’re left to conclude that the gentle side of shoegaze is perfectly pleasant – but it’s not half as much fun as the ear-splitting howl and unshakeable, sherbert-fizzy tunes on that Dum Dum Girls record.
Maybe it’s that there are just too many great Swedish acts. Musical highlights from that part of the world have been many and varied in recent years - and yet The Radio Dept. inexplicably remain, for the most part, an under-appreciated cult entity. Album number three sees the band refine their once shoegaze-heavy sound without losing much of their frosty glaze. As usual, a sophisticated pop nous - most notably on the New Order-esque 'The Video Dept.' and the piano-led 'Heaven's On Fire' - just about manages to keep things the right side of fey throughout. No doubt only about twenty people actually bought it all the same. (Review)