Album Review: The Radio Dept. - Running Out of Love

Album Reviews
10/26/2016
Gerrit Feenstra

Swedish indie pop band The Radio Dept. have never been optimists, but with new record Running Out of Love, they are really going out of their way not to see any silver linings. "There's nothing gracious about our kind", Johan Duncanson sings on opener "Sloboda Narodu" (yes, that is the famous Yugoslav Partisan motto), as he reflects on, well, humanity. If you think about it, the cynicism is merited. It's been six years since the band's third record, Clinging To A Scheme, and my, what wonders have happened in that timespan to give us less and less faith in humanity? Those four hour days in Swedish winter just seem to be getting shorter and shorter as the years pass, but that doesn't mean they can't be spent listening to top notch pop musings. Taking a chilly turn towards more electronic textures, Duncanson and Larsson envision a bleak and beautiful outlook on, in the band's own statement, "all the things that are moving in the wrong direction". Societal regression continues to be the mainstay theme of 2016 as the Radio Dept. give us the most danceable downer of the year.

The Radio Dept. have not had great luck writing albums in the past ten or so years. "For the third time in a row we have made two albums instead of one", the band explained in the introductory statement for Running Out of Love. It might be that Radio Dept. are, somewhat famously, behind schedule. Or, it might be that they continue to write new records in a world that continually chooses to become worse off than the way it was when they began writing. This is especially believable in the past decade, as Duncanson recently went on record to talk about with Pitchfork. A dwindling middle class due to right wing tax policies, higher costs for daycare with less promise of quality, more individual turns towards extremism... it's very relevant stuff to us here in America, as we try to focus on the same issues with a population more than thirty times larger. Thus, many of the themes on Running Out of Love will be painfully relatable. Alongside Duncanson and Larsson, we get to navigate a bleak landscape whose incentive to love is extremely low.

Mercifully, the Radio Dept. have soundtrack the most heavy handed message of their career with another relative highpoint: the most danceable record. The first official single off the record was last year's "Occupied", possibly the longest song in the band's history, and still the most worthy of its own 80s 12" extended 12 minute dance mix. "Occupied" presents the most abstract vision of gloom on the record, letting the pieces fall together in mental space rather than nailing them to the concrete wall. Here, they present a younger generation looking at their aspirations, all with "No Vacancy" signs hung outside the door. "Occupied" is preceded on the record by the next best dance number, "We Got Game". It's another glance at a broken system whose intended audience is losing both faith and interest all the time. Finally, the third single off the record, "Swedish Guns", is a pretty straightforward number about violence as solution. While the subject matter is as heavy as can be, the bass-driven electronic groove is one that could set in for twice its staying time. All of this helps side A of Running float effortlessly above its own dark waters.

Side B takes a decidedly more melancholy tune, as the darkly descriptive dancing subsides into more introspective reflection about the reality of the situation. "Can't Be Guilty" is easily the most heartbreaking of the bunch, as Duncanson's narrative begs the question of how the guiltless many deserve the retribution enacted on a handful at the top of the financial and political system. Duncanson doesn't provide many answers aside from sleep, which isn't exactly reassuring. The Stone Roses-esque jammer "Committed To The Cause" brightens things up musically, but only to detail the endless cycle of unsatisfactory work and a culture that seems to be bleeding out. "When our pain is over, it's someone else's turn", Duncanson sings, "no point in staying sober if we're going to burn". Hot damn. Let's going back to distracting ourselves with that lush bass line, shall we?

As unrelenting as Duncanson's motif of degradation is, it's far from tasteless cynicism. Rather, painting a rainbow at the end of the album would gravely detract from its message. Instead, the Radio Dept. offer us something very different to close out the narrative. "Teach Me To Forget", however intentional in its irony, embodies the "break free" voice that tends to run aimlessly somewhere between escapist youth culture and tangible anti-Fascist mantra. Yet on both "Committed To The Cause" and "Teach Me To Forget", Radio Dept. propose the escapist vice of alcohol as a short term solution to a problem with no long term one. The Radio Dept. aren't afraid to paint the picture as bleak as it seems - in fact, they prefer you see it that way. Perhaps at first you find yourself distracted by the dance numbers, letting your mind escape into boundless, pulsating grooves, but eventually Duncanson's foreboding message will find you, and you'll realize there is no progress or escape from the problem without individual resistance and participation in a greater narrative. The album's opener "Sloboda Narodu" is almost a second take at the same sample and melody they used on 2014 track "Death To Fascism", and despite Duncanson's lack of faith in our graciousness, it calls us as individuals to revolt against an oppressive system. Without the stark view of Running Out of Love to give contrast, Radio Dept. could not create an appealing call. But thankfully, through brute force and frigid dedication. Duncanson and Larsson give us a wonder of a record with a timely and quite urgent message.

Running Out of Love is out now on Labrador Records. Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Radio Dept. will tour in support of the new record next spring, and you can catch them at Neumos on March 1st. Grab tickets here.

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