The Radio Dept.

Clinging to a Scheme

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The run-up to the release of the Radio Dept.’s third album, Clinging to a Scheme, seemed endless by the time it finally came out in the spring of 2010. It seemed that every few months a release date was announced and then passed, with only a couple singles to show for the band’s efforts. When it did appear, it was clear that anyone hoping for a return to the fuzzy, lo-fi sound of their debut record Lesser Matters may be disappointed, as the band has unloaded almost all the aspects of the shoegaze attack that characterized their first recordings. Instead, they’ve followed the direction of Pet Grief and have taken another step in the direction toward the Pet Shop Boys. That is to say, they are more informed by synth pop and less by guitar rock. This further refining and synthing of their approach doesn’t mean they’ve cleaned up and become all slick though, the trio still make sure to bathe the sound in bucketfuls of reverb, and Johan Duncanson’s voice is treated with all kinds of effects, often giving him the sound of a guy at the end of a hallway singing through a paper towel roll. It’s a time-honored trick of taking pretty pop songs and roughing them up, and the group work it like old pros here. While songs like "A Token of Gratitude" or "You Stopped Making Sense" would sound great on just acoustic guitars or piano, giving them some gritty noise and fuzzy atmosphere manages to impart an extra boost of emotional power that makes the album really stick. Just as importantly, the band have written what might be their best batch of songs for Clinging, with almost every song sounding like it could be a single. The two songs that were chosen as singles are the best of the lot, each feeling like instant classics. "David"’s cheesy synths, stately beats, and the chamber pop-lovely arrangement mesh perfectly with the breathtaking vocal melody, "Heaven’s on Fire" bursts out of the speakers in a blast of happy keys, peppy guitars, and a beat straight out of Madchester. It’s a dramatic one-two punch that almost serves to overshadow the rest of the record on first listen. Further spins reveal the charms of the non-single tracks, and the whole thing ends up being one of the best examples of all the things that help make Swedish pop so magical. For once, all the pre-release hype and anticipation has been justified; the Radio Dept. have delivered the best work of their career.

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