Radar Bros. Auditorium

[Merge; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: pop rock, indie rock, 1960s California Dream pop
Others: Beachwood Sparks, Red House Painters, Neil Young, The Byrds

Radar Bros.' last album, 2005’s The Fallen Leaf Pages, was a plunge into the murky depths of a bygone era, and the results were pleasingly sinister. Tapping into the dark hearts of The Byrds and Crazy Horse, Radar Bros. re-imagined an indelible period in music with as much sunshine as an eclipse. No surprises there; chief songwriter Jim Putnam has always erred on the side of gloom when exploring the depths of Big Sur pop.

Auditorium, however, sees Radar Bros.' eerie twists and turns being replaced with a brighter disposition. Where The Fallen Leaf Pages mixed happy-go-lucky sounds with merciless subject matter, Auditorium blends joyous melodies with hopeful lyricism. Guaranteed to upset those who found their Tim Burton, peril-filled charm endearing, Radar Bros.' music now implies a renewed sense of optimism.

Auditorium’s jumping-off point, cold opener “When Cold Air Goes to Sleep,” is an exclamation of gratitude, casting off the somber pall of troubling times and thanking the nameless recipient; Putnam is readying to forget the past and moving into the less-cloudy present. Such a message can only be carried forth with a raucous, devil-may-care pop assault of jangling guitars and soothing harmonies. It takes the sting out of the forced goodbye.

Hearing the band praise the simple pleasures of watching rabbits frolic in the light of a new day (“Brother Rabbit”) or enjoying sun and shore (“Lake Life”) is a tough adjustment -- shrugging off past indiscretions and cleaning the slate isn’t the kind of lyricism we expect from the mouths of Radar Bros. -- but tracks like “On Nautilis” and “Happy Spirits” do offer moments of grief. These glances into the past throw Auditorium slightly out of sync, but they certainly help transition older fans to their newfound sensibility.

This fitter, happier version of Radar Bros. may take some getting used to, but the payoff is worthwhile and essentially dependent on you. If you keep an open mind, you’ll notice yourself sporting a genuine grin, humming pleasant tunes, and dreaming less of bloody rivers and more of fall-colored sunsets. Just like how Radar Bros. are now obviously more content with things, we should take this time to remove our tongues from our cheeks and reflect on something positive, even if only for 46 minutes.

Most Read