The new configuration of Radar Brothers finds founding member Jim Putnam (vocals, guitar, keyboard) in his usual position at the forefront now joined by Be Hussey (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Stevie Treichel (drums) for The Illustrated Garden, the band's sixth studio album over 14 years.
"Dear Headlights" opens with a majestic piano over drums and cymbals, keeping an easy, laid-back beat. The rest of the arrangement swells into a nice bit of psychedelia reminiscent of late '60s, post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd, before a slow fade out. "Rainbow," with its strummed electric guitar, vocal harmonies, and keyboard flourishes brings to mind the mid- to late-80s alternative bands that filled the airwaves after the success of R.E.M. "For the Birds" sees a return to psychedelic dabbling, but the organ and golden harmonies bring to mind the alternatively spelled Byrds as the song casts a warm glow like the California sun. The whistling on the bridge adds to the aura of comfort that envelops the listener.
"Quarry" has a slightly different arrangement that drops the organ and places the electric guitar front and center to drive it along. Its lyrics contrast with upbeat music as the narrator sings of a relationship that appears to be unraveling amongst his pleas of "I want you/ I need you" that close the song. On "Horses Warriors" the music moves at a nice clip, bringing to mind a galloping horse and the vocals harmonize at times like yodeling cowboys, giving the song a cinematic feel. Five songs in is the halfway point, so if you enjoyed the album to this point, you'll very likely be pleased with the remaining tracks as they deliver similar sounds to what has come before.
The music is the most important element when listening to The Illustrated Garden because the lyrics are not always easy to make out in the mix. And when understandable, they don't offer anything of great significance. Their contribution to the gentle, idyllic moods of the music are more important than their content and are what the album will be remember for.