I’m pretty late to the Radio Dept. train. Since 2003, The Swedish indie pop trio has released three studio records, four EPs and, just last month, a singles compilation of dreamy, shoegaze-y, electronic goodness from the past eight years.
I’ve been enamored of that other Swedish indie pop trio, Peter, Bjorn and John, for a long time, but before last month The Radio Dept. were on my “heard of them, but never heard them” list.
Last Wednesday, the Independent was full of freezing, wet folks, nursing beers and waiting to be warmed by the band’s lush synths and lulling guitar melodies. The trio finally took the stage around 10:30pm and played a 50-minute set with little interruption between songs, starting with two of the more straightforward indie rock variety that seemed like a warmup.
Lead singer Johan Duncanson sings in a whispery way that works very well on record, but is easily buried in a live setting if the mix isn’t just right or the programmed beats are too loud, which was unfortunately the case this time. During the set I moved to different spots on the floor to try to hear him better, but ended up checking the vocals off as a secondary layer and trying to listen to the overall sound instead.
The band really hit their stride on songs like the Lauryn Hill-reminiscent “David” and fan favorite “The New Improved Hypocrisy,” and some struck the perfect interplay between the electronic beats and bass, Daniel Tjader’s warm keyboard lines and Martin Larsson’s restrained guitar, letting the instrumental sections groove along and take shape. But since all the songs were rooted in a Macbook, it often felt like they were just getting ready to take off — and then the beat would stop. By the same token, I was really impressed at how the band managed to stay locked in to the beat in the absence of a live drummer to compensate for any errors.
The final song was the only one that extended longer than the others, and the trio let themselves go a lot more to give us a huge, grand ending to the night.
The Radio Dept. has a ton of back catalog to check out, and I’d start there to get a good introduction to the band, as well as an appreciation of the elements that were unfortunately missing from their live set. Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010 is a double-disc compilation available now on Labrador Records, and includes 28 songs from EPs, online-only releases, and B-sides.
Check out “David” below:
The Radio Dept, “David”