Future Clouds & Radar’s self-titled debut album was an ambitious and ballsy 27-song behemoth. At its best it was bold, experimental, and melodic indie-pop, with cryptic, sometimes mysterious lyrics and a mind-numbing number of musical styles synthesized into a creative and adventurous mixture.
Though its musical influences were sometimes too obvious – singer and lyricist Robert Harrison and the rest of the band clearly studied hard at Beatles U and probably minored in Guided By Voices. – its major flaw was that its sheer volume of material frequently varied in quality. For this reason comparisons to warts-and-all albums like The White Album and Sandinista were on target. It begged to be paired down and to have the fat trimmed (even the most successful giant albums contain some stink bombs; the Holy Grail in indieland, The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, would probably have been better as 60 Love Songs).
Either a simple coincidence noticed by geeky music critics or tacit acknowledgment that this debut album was overly stuffed and jammed up with musical ideas, Future Clouds and Radar’s follow-up album Peoria checks in at just eight songs in under 35 minutes. Though musically reminiscent of that debut album – that Beatles influence hasn’t faded, and some of the songs are still saturated with a whole wonderful mess of guitars, horns, keyboards, beats, creeks, cracks, sci-fi noises, and claps – Peoria is more refined, direct, and accessible. It even contains identifiable themes that connect the songs.
Though the songs still contain a lot of instrumentation, there’s more breathing room this time around. Even better, the genre-hopping is more successful and less forced and self-indulgent than on the band’s sprawling debut. Several songs are simply built around guitars, keyboards, and strings, which gives the melodies a more prominent role than before; the album ends with a long instrumental section that nicely sums up the various musical tricks and traits employed throughout. If snatches of some songs are perhaps still too experimental for their own good – the opening horns on “Eighteen Months” are damn cheesy and the space alien noises on the last few minutes of “Mummified” are a bit excessive – overall the release places “traditional” melodies on an even playing field with the band’s more out-there tendencies.