Piloting a new line-up into some uncharted sonic territories, frontman Jim Putnam allows Radar Brothers to evolve on the band’s sixth release, The Illustrated Garden. Wobbly, sleepy-eyed Americana rock is still the LA band’s aesthetic cornerstone, but spacey synths and shuffling tempos make individual tracks on this disc stand out from the group’s back catalogue successfully, for the most part.
“For the Birds” marries chirpy keyboards and starched acoustic guitars with muted trumpets and lush whistling. Putnam’s doubled-up vocals and numerous backing harmonies spiral and churn as a road trip narrative unspools in poetic couplets (“Turn the night to day, send me on my way”). Bass player Be Hussey and drummer Stevie Treichel lock into compelling grooves that add a needed urgency to Putnam’s laid-back road songs.
“Horses Warriors” quickly builds to a triumphant stride as crunchy electric guitars stretch into an atmospheric country western-leaning soundscape. As lyrics toy with the iconography of the Spaghetti West, dense instrumentation conveys a sense of desert momentum and cross-country driving. Cowbell and lingering brushes deliver the feeling and emotions of worn tires kicking up dust clouds and gravel while a stinging wind sneaks in through cracked rear windows. “Chickens” playfully jogs around a single sustained note while supporting a constant crescendo and a pleasantly off-balance canon-style construction. While closing track, “Radio” suffers from a few too many ideas and not enough energy to convincingly plow through the jittery, veering song structure, The Illustrated Garden finds Radar Brothers mostly moving forward with righteous, stomping footsteps. The band sounds its best when edging toward chaos, allowing lush, sun-baked soundscapes to spiral just enough out of control to remain riveting while barreling forward down the road.
Favorite Track: “Horses Warriors”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.