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And The Surrounding Mountains

Radar Brothers
And The Surrounding Mountains
(Merge Records)

I always admire artists who can seemingly do so much with so little. Groups that don't deviate from a structure very much, yet still manage to create highly memorable music. That's not to say that what the Radar Brothers do is simple or even easy (as I couldn't even begin to tell you), but that they take instruments that so many bands have long gone stale with and create lush little tracks that make me want to sit out in my backyard sipping a lemonade while watching the sun slowly bid a retreat beyond the horizon (a pity I discover the group now, when it's 10 degrees and snowy, rather than during the fall when the album originally came out).

In the past, the group has been lumped in with bands like Low and others, and while they do have some things in common (mainly a mid-to-slower tempo pacing), they also call to mind other things. After listening to And The Surrounding Mountains several times, I was reminded of some of the recent, semi-orchestral pop/rock of Jim O'Rourke. It doesn't hurt that lead singer Jim Putnam has a somewhat similar vocal sound, but the music itself does as well.

"You And The Father" opens the album, and after an extended intro in which subtle keyboards, horns, and chimes all blend behind intertwining acoustic and electric guitar melodies, the song sheds down to only acoustic guitar and bass for Putnam's vocals before swelling up again for choruses that gradually build to a mini-epic by the end. "On The Line" features some funky play between the rhythm section while keyboards and guitars weave during the verses before dropping some thick, warbling synths and multi-layered vocals for the chorus.

Tracks move along at a very human pace, and that's part of the joy in the album. It's steady as she goes, and yet the group doesn't allow things to simply lapse into wankery. Mostly that is due to the use of very subtle changes in instrumentation, and the group tosses piano, lots of synths, and some varied percussion into the mix to keep things changing up ever-so-slightly. One of the best moments of the album is during the end of "Uncles," in which part of the song is played backwards and sped up while string synths moan over the top. It sounds somewhat gimmicky at first, but soon gives way to the watery twang of guitars at the beginning of "Still Evil," which is easily one of the best songs both musically and lyrically on the entire disc.

Don't expect any monster riffs from the disc, and don't even expect much in the way of tempo changes or dynamics. As mentioned above, the album keeps a fairly even keep, but manages to craft damn good songs regardless. After the super-solid beginning, the album loses a bit of steam towards the final quarter, but still doesn't trip up too much. It's yet another album and group that I missed checking out in the last year, but glad that I finally did. I'm sure it will sound even better when it finally gets a little warmer outside, too.

Rating: 7.5