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Radar Bros. - And the Surrounding Mountains

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Artist: Radar Bros.

Album: And the Surrounding Mountains

Label: Merge

Review date: Jun. 3, 2002

“Majestic”. “Eye-popping”. “Dizzying”… Analogies made between things visual and audio usually emanate from music of a dense or accumulated variety: critical terminology and descriptive phrases such as “soundscape” are frequently applied to the layered works of distortion-loving shoegazers like My Bloody Valentine and studio rats like Stereolab. And the Surrounding Mountains, the new album by California’s Radar Bros., should work wonders to abolish the notion that stripped-down, subtle rock is not an invitation for the listener to revisit scenes viewed in the past. With Mountains Singer/Songwriter Jim Putnam’s trio has served up a follow-up to The Singing Hatchet that once again demonstrates how acoustic guitar progressions combined with tasteful (yet assertive) drumming (by Steve Goodfriend) and moseying basslines (by Senon Gaius Williams) make wonderful canvases on which to work.

Shallow-minded music critics, who dismissed Hatchet as a modern day rehashing of Pink Floyd space-folk (only interesting when listened to in a drug-induced state), would have you believe that the Bros.’ music is “pretty…but pretty boring” at best. However, Putnam’s tingling lead guitar work, lilting vocal delivery (reminiscent of a Terror Twilight-era Steve Malkmus), and unexpected lyrics make Mountains worthy of repeat listens. There’s a little something for everyone here: slide-guitar twang for alt-country fans, the lingering delay of guitar solos for spacerockers and dreamy chord progressions for pop-lovers. The waltzy tracks “On the Line”, “Rock of the Lake” and “Sisters” best represent the musical purpose towards which the Radar Bros. work. However, the strength of the album comes from its identity as a whole and not as a framework for two or three “hit singles”. Much like climbing a mountain, you don’t realize how far you’ve come until you reach a summit or lookout point. Here, that lookout point is the majestic penultimate track (appropriately titled) “Mountains” and its recurrent line “Out to sea!”, powerfully augmented by a carefully orchestrated string section and whistling accompaniment. Imagine that the boys of Pavement (in one of their more serious moods) sitting around a campfire with a few guitars, a piano and a stripped down drumkit, and you’ll be in the general vicinity of Mountains.

Perhaps the album’s most glaring weakness (a rare item) is that the ethereal beauty of Mountains is never broken up into more digestible portions. The occasional attempt is made to diversify the record’s sonic portfolio (for example, the backwards singing at the end of “Uncles”, or the squawking birds of “Camplight”), but one almost wishes that there were some jarring moments to wake you from the gentle trance that inevitably takes possession of your senses. The best escapes are the ones that take you away from horror. There’s not much horror to be found in the Bros.’ Mountains except for maybe Putnam’s anxiety-provoked/provoking lyrics: “The mothers are angry now / Sharpen your spear / They’re landing soon I hear.”

It is as if the Radar Bros. want to use each song as an opportunity to remind us that there is too much beauty in the outside world to ignore - music can reach your eyes through your ears if you’re willing to follow the Bros. to the beautiful places you’ve been before.

By Jeff Rufo

Other Reviews of Radar Bros.

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The Illustrated Garden


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