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Music Review: The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme

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For fans of Sweden’s The Radio Dept., the release of Clinging to a Scheme was a process that went on and on and on. New release dates were seemingly issued every other month only to pass into nothingness, but the band apparently needed to come out from under its shoegaze stormcloud.

Clinging to a Scheme is a surprisingly sunny, airy bit of pop that has blasted away most of that sulkiness and haze the band’s been known for. It’s a step in the right direction, but things are still doused in heavy effects, misty reverb and unfortunate obviousness.

This type of nearly excited synth pop calls to mind memories of Pet Shop Boys and other similar acts, but The Radio Dept. is not quite as silky or fun. Instead, these are pop songs that sound like they’ve been put in the dryer with a few sets of keys and perhaps some nails: vocals are far-flung and listless, keyboards are filed down, and the beats are clipped short.

Of course, this is all by design and the resolute distancing of the sound negates its effect. The Radio Dept. comes off less as passionate artists and more as cookie-cutter indie poppers looking to hit all the right notes and push all the right buttons.

That’s not to say that the right buttons sound all that bad, of course. They are the right buttons, after all. But Clinging to a Scheme has a definite “been there, done that” feel that’s hard to shake.

“Heaven’s on Fire” is a perfect example. The track begins with a weird rant about destroying the “bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture” and ventures off into a bright, bouncy bit of pop fun. It might be the best track on the record.

“Never Follow Suit” could have perhaps been the best song here, were it not for the band’s incessant need to fit every indie stereotype into one track. The charming reggae bounce is diminished and almost undermined by vocalist Johan Duncanson’s undue reverb and a strange, silly spoken word portion.

Other tracks follow comparable patterns, with “The Video Dept.” overworking a beautiful melody into an unsurprising effect-fest and “David” is weighed down by the band’s noisy fiddling.

Overall, Clinging to a Scheme may be the only title this album could have had. This sort of colour-by-numbers indie pop works only if there’s enough cleverness to back it up, but The Radio Dept. simply relies too much on humdrum setups and hip indifference to matter much.

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