I am trying to be a bit more picky this year. There’s lot’s of really really good music coming out at the moment and, as I regularly write, it can be a bit overwhelming when I’m trying to cover it all and have time to do other things, not least listen to music that I love that is older than a few months (hence my most recent Playlist). I’m probably failing at my pickiness (if that’s a word), what I do know however is that no matter how discerning I would try to be this new album by The Radiation Flowers would make the cut because it’s frankly brilliant.
Last week I reviewed the band’s new split LP with fellow Canadians Hawkeyes, and commented on the sunny upbeat nature of The Radiation Flowers’ track there. This is mostly replicated here with similar effect of raising the mood from what feels to be a rather bleak time to be living in Britain (see my blog if you want the political commentary).
First let me get something off my chest. I’m not a big fan of music that could be broadly described as ‘Shoegaze’. I don’t think it’s rubbish, I don’t think any heartfully played music is rubbish, it’s just not for me. Yet ‘Summer Loop’ has a most definite nod towards that genre and I really like it. This, for me, is because there are also other things going on here, and a vibe that is irresistible. Yeah, it’s the vibe that really does it for me more than anything else.
That vibe is laid back, but by the same token there is something here that is complex, intelligent and alive. This is a summer record, as the title alludes to… but its not just about chilling and running through fields of wheat. There is also a harder edge to this album which somehow sits perfectly with the mood and expectation of the time.
This is evident from the first bars of the first track ‘Just Go Away’ which suggest something harder than the wonderful drop into the vocals delivers. They drift in and stand, along with a laid back rhythm in a certain kind of tension with the heavier guitars that have a sharper edge. Together they form a concurrent light and shade that pulls you in different directions in a very absorbing way which, for me, nicely sets the tone of the album.
‘Walking Down The Street’ in many ways has the same overall vibe instrumentally and, while Shelby Gaudet’s voice on this track is in many ways doing the same thing as Chris Laramee’s on ‘Just Go Away’ the change from male to female provides a subtle but real change in tone which give the tracks a different interpretation of the same vibe in a way that really works for me. I find both very relaxing, yet musically interesting, and I’m sure I’m going to get a lot more out of them with repeated listens.
If the album just continued along this vein it would be lovely, but not special. Fortunately this is not the case and, oh man, ‘Colours’ is one of my tracks of the year so far. In terms of approach it reminds me of last year’s excellent Heron Oblivion album. The vocal is simply melting, soulful and with a melody that is just crushing. This is mirrored by Lucas Goetz’s hammond organ which perfectly matches Gaudet’s vocal. Just terrific.
Another welcome change in pace comes with ‘Dancing In Flame’, far more heavy and upbeat this shakes away the melancholy of ‘Colours’ to a certain extent and gives the band a chance to rock out a bit. There’s some fuzz going on in the background and the rhythm section, Amber Ross (drums) and Jay Allen (bass), is given more of a free reign to express itself here as the track builds up to an exciting climax where even a sax breaks through the melee to good effect.
Then comes ‘Sunrise’. Like ’33 Floors Up’ on the split LP this is one that you’re really going to want to get up and dance to. It’s the sort of track that’s going to go down well on a balmy summers night when you’re starting to feel lethargic and ready to drop and, as it starts get lighter (as the title suggests), you’re up and at it again. The hi-tempo repeato riff really gets the adrenaline going…definitely all about the sunrise of an ‘all-nighter’… can’t wait to stay up.
‘Summer of Burnout’, as the title suggests to me, seems to be about the other side of summer. This is an altogether darker track, with heavy stoner elements that bring the tone crashing down in a salutary way. Yes it’s great to get up and have fun but there’s other shit going down as well. This is why I like this album so much, because it’s honest. It’s not saying that everything is crap, neither is it saying everything is awesome. Things are more complicated than that, life is more complicated than that. After the sweet melancholia and the driving feel-good rhythms this is the come down, which is subtle and introspective. Beautiful, but in a very different way.
Last up is ‘Walking (reprise)’ which is a softer more acoustically driven version of ‘Walking Down The Street’. This after the different emotions and shades of the album takes us out in a kind of agnostic way. It’s gentle tones gives us space to decompress and hit the world again gently and bring back a chilled vibe that we probably need to carry on.
I’ve swore that I was not going to have an album of the year list this year, but as 2017 progresses there does seem to be a core of albums that are solidifying in my mind that are going that extra mile for me. This Radiation Flowers LP bears all the hallmarks of being one of them. It somehow succeeds in having a common vibe throughout, holding together an eclectic series of track that will variously have you up on your feet jigging like there’s no tomorrow and down on your haunches in contemplation that sadly there is a tomorrow. It’s an album for the summer, the whole summer in all its wonder and woe. It’s going to be my soundtrack for sure.