In the chorus of Pet Grief's lead single and catchiest song, Radio Dept. head Johan Duncanson makes the touching if rather petty confession that the only reason he's able to withstand his jealous despair is the knowledge that his would-be romantic rival has "the worst taste in music." Well, if it makes him feel better, there's certainly no doubting his and his bandmates' taste -- like their buzzy, buzzed-about debut, Pet Grief evinces an impeccably fashionable roll call of influences from British post-punk and shoegaze to more recent electronic indie and dream pop, and if that's not enough, the hook of "What Will Give?" offers the gratuitously hip reference: "I want to hide, like Jandek before playing live." But taste only gets you so far -- if you're going to wear your influences on your sleeve, you'd better have your heart on it too, if not some other tricks up it as well. Lesser Matters had the heart, the humanity, the class, the confidence, and the pop chops, in spades, to pull off its stylish simulations without ever seeming rotely regurgitative, but this sophomore set, to some extent, lets its stylishness supersede its substance. It's not that Radio Dept. have dramatically altered their approach, although there are definitely discernible differences. The band's always somewhat fluid lineup is now down to three -- they've gained a keyboard player and lost a bassist and a drummer since the first full-length, and the (apparently intentional) effects are evident in an increased reliance on synthesized atmospherics and programmed drum machine beats, which still sound as gloriously cheap as ever. Their lush lo fi luster is only slightly diminished -- that is to say: these productions are, on the whole, slightly more polished, though they're still amply capable of generating that woozy, wistful warmth. And there's a somewhat streamlined feeling to the album in dynamic terms as well, with less song to song variety -- there are none of the shambolic, nearly twee numbers which were so effective interspersed among Lesser Matters' oceans of fuzz, and in fact, apart from the spirited, saturated "Every Time," there's not even all that much distortion here. But the main issue is that songs themselves just aren't as engaging this time out. Duncanson's vocals are practically buried in reverb throughout, which certainly doesn't help matters on that count (though it arguably adds to the album's overall atmosphere), but even with repeated listens there are only a handful of numbers -- most notably "Worst Taste" and the title track -- which stand out as comparable to the remarkably consistent quality of the debut. It may be that they were just more interested in album-length ambience than stand-alone pop this time around -- a couple of brief, spacy instrumentals seem to suggest as much. In that sense the album must certainly be regarded as a success; it's a rich and evocative mood piece, and still eminently worth hearing. It's just a minor disappointment when a band so adept at bridging the style-substance divide decide to limit themselves to just one facet of their talents.
AllMusic Review by K. Ross Hoffman