Monday, February 29, 2016
Radiation City - Synesthetica (2016)
For much of their existence Portland indie pop outfit Radiation City has plowed forward with a release schedule that's downright impressive. While your garden variety indie band generally takes at least a year or two between albums (if not, the results are usually quite honestly unbearable), Radiation City has released a new collection of music pretty much annual from the release of their debut The Hands That Take You. That is until they didn't. After releasing their sophomore full length Animals In The Median, a record that capitalized on much of Radiation City's early potential, they took a break. What fans didn't know at the time was that the band was in crisis. Lizzy Ellison and Cameron Spies, the band's chief songwriters and couple at the heart of the band temporarily broke up and the band was more or less on the outs. And that's when the band's metamorphosis into the kind of band that can put out a record like Synesthetica began. Ellison and Spies got together to recapture that old magic - unsure even if anything would come out of it. The results were fruitful enough that the duo saw the need for a change as they took true and properly leadership of the band to chase this newfound creative rabbit trail. It led them to John Vanderslice and then back to Portland with a brand new mission. This was the band's renaissance.
To the uninitiated, the band essentially blowing themselves up for a phoenix-like return is hard to glean from the sound of Synthestica. Its sounds like a very natural progression from Animals In The Median. The band plays around with their genre influences to create those similar sort of updated retro-pop. The band describes much of Synesthetica's creation as giving in to the surreal and perhaps that true. They continue a trend for surreal song subjects and lyrical choices they began far before Synesthetica but this album finds the time to be occasionally raw and honest. While a good pop album essentially functions both as presentation of the artist's identity while also providing ample room for projection - Synesthetica indulges in quick moments of beguiling sincerity.
"If this is the end/Then I would like to say" Ellison measuredly coos before trailing off in album stand out "Sugar Broom". The chorus continues the thought sure but that intro where Ellison seems to be really thinking about the right words that might save or end everything feel incredibly lived in. The fact that it's one of the catchiest songs on the record does nothing to dull the effect. "Separate" functions as an effective counter. Ellison's "I know, I know/You would need to go/You would end it all to show you hold the reins" trades off with Spies more ambiguous offerings and it's both a marvelous encapsulation of disconnect both lyrically and tonally. Ellison more serious chorus steamrolled by Spies' conversational but barbed replies.
"Butter" sees Ellison laying it all on the table: "This is not an open invitation, it is an open wound/this is not the result of being patient, this is not making a move/You are not flying through a window, you are not covered in bruises/I am the one, the one that gets the beat up, feet up to cover the moon". It's probably Ellison at her most sultry and yet, it's unflinchingly honest. It's a natural build - acknowledging that precipice point several song before "Sugar Broom" acknowledges it but with less room for backpedaling.
Much of Synesthetica's appeal is that for all intents and purposes it's not as heavy of a record as you all the backstory would lead you to believe. Not armed without that knowledge, it comes as a nimbly, effortlessly, and narratively vague as some of Radiation City's best songs. But what makes Synesthetica such a dynamic album is that they're able to pair the songs that acknowledge their murky pasts and not so certain futures with songs and hooks that are positively delightful and enjoyable. Where there's a "Butter", there's a "Oil Show", where there's a "Sugar Broom" or "Separate", there's "Juicy" and "Come and Go". Radiation City are under new management and under the influence of perhaps its most effected members, they balance the serious with the fun, the biting with the playful, and soothe those moments of brazen, unrepentant honest with the occasional foray into nonsense. Radiation City may be airing their dirty laundry with Synesthetica but they make sure you get to see their favorite bits - the vibrant colors and textures of their wardrobe that shine through the occasional grit and grime.
Radiation City's third full length Synesthetica is out now via Polyvinyl. You can order it in a variety of different formats here.