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All Night Radio - Spirit Stereo Frequency

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Artist: All Night Radio

Album: Spirit Stereo Frequency

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Feb. 29, 2004

Dave Scher and Jimi Hey, the duo known as All Night Radio, spent a great deal of time during the making of Spirit Stereo Frequency on an underappreciated detail that, to my mind at least, far too many bands overlook: the transitions. Nothing elaborate or drawn-out – the album isn’t constructed like one big medley – but those transitions are designed to set the band apart. All Night Radio’s particular twist on the indie pop formula – or their particular twist on the pop music formula of 30 years ago, if you want to trace the idea back to its source – is to have their songs rising briefly from swells of field recordings, conversations, computer generated vocals, and a continual wash of static. This noise then frames their country-tinged pop songs, subject of course to unpredictable interruptions and changes of course from the same.

All Night Radio is a side project from Scher and Hey’s other band, Beachwood Sparks, and the name probably has any number of meanings. Thankfully, they aren’t mutually exclusive. Scher used to host a late-night radio show on LA’s KXLU, which Hey would often call with requests, so it could refer to the band’s origins. It also works as a reference to their influences, a Sweetheart of the Rodeo-type country rock which prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s, when all night radio stations were a rare and popular thing. The name also, finally, hints at a sort of all-encompassing idea on Spirit Stereo Frequency: that there’s a powerful metaphysical content to those radio waves, freeing minds and souls.

Of course, liberation-through-radio is just an idea meant to give a little bit more heft to the 10 songs on this album, as well as to explain a style of music that marries laid-back, AM station rock to laptop-generated collages of ambient noise. Songs like “Daylight Till Dawn” and “Sad K,” are pure nostalgic pop, and sound as though they could have come from the Lilys (with whom Scher and Hey have also recorded) or Sub Pop labelmates the Shins.

Indeed, despite Scher and Hey’s tenuous steps toward ambient and electronic albums, the songs on Spirit Stereo Frequency sound like they were written as straightforward rock songs. Unlike some previous noise-influenced rock acts, All Night Radio doesn’t really build anything out of the sound effects on their album; they simply sit on top of the music. At one point this yields a fairly interesting song, the closing “All Night Radio,” a concoction of heavy reverberation and vocal mixing that stretches out to the seven-minute mark. At other times, however, the effects just get in the way: “Fall Down 7” sounds about half-finished, despite the studio trickery used to disguise it. Indeed, a lot of the material sounds incomplete, as Scher and Hey have a habit of backing off just when a song sounds like its coming together. “We’re on Our Wave” is just a collection of interrupted tempos, and the melody on “Winter Light,” played with a single guitar buried deep in the mix, is not easily heard. Those afraid of growing bored with indie pop will appreciate the shedding of formulas and restrictions, while fans of the genre will be frustrated with the album’s skewed, baroque arrangements. For my own part, I was somewhere in between – in the clutter of the album nothing really stands out, but it’s a pleasant listen. All Night Radio has potential, but the first album has a difficult time reconciling the opposing elements of their sound.

By Tom Zimpleman

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