Radiation City
Synesthetica


4.0
excellent

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
February 9th, 2016 | 31 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Fallout in full 3D color.

For a band with a sound that generally fell in that indistinct blogosphere sweet spot between “dreamy” and “hazy,” Portland, Oregon quartet Radiation City did their cribbing better than most. On 2013’s sophomore effort Animals in the Median, the group continued to chip out their own niche with a heavy serving of retro psychedelic pop, interstitial bits of analog glitch, and a considerable dollop of space-age weirdness that called to mind icons like Stereolab and the Human League in more than one reviewer. It was a simultaneously well-worn yet vibrant sound, best exemplified in the music video for “Zombies,” a brilliant take on a heartrending song that mixed past and present visual and musical tropes to beguiling effect. Their new album, Synesthetica, seizes on the promise of “Zombies,” amping up the ‘60s pop bedrock in the band’s DNA – the Beach Boys, the Velvet Underground, the Mamas and the Papas – with a rich production aesthetic and some of the most unabashedly sugary hooks in the band’s discography.

Named for the neurological condition where an individual who has one sense stimulated experiences an involuntary stimulation of another sensory pathway, Synesthetica doesn’t announce itself subtly. “Oil Show” is an appropriate representation of the album’s namesake, brimming with ideas and layers upon layers of melodies and instrumental fidgeting, singer Lizzy Ellison’s sparkling vocals providing a pleasant road map. Ellison, whose experience of seeing specific colors when she hears different musical sounds inspired the album title, is the thread that keeps “Oil Show,” and Synesthetica, from collapsing in on itself. Where past albums tended to ebb and flow, Synesthetica rarely lets its foot off the gas. “Juicy” is a slow roiling lullaby that builds its crowd-pleasing vocal lilts into a boisterous anthem, Ellison soaring over a drunkenly tilting chorus. The luxuriant strings and fat synths that bubble over the blue-eyed soul of “Butter” – a production choice that aligns the song with any number of classic James Bond themes – make one wonder how Ellison, with her condition, can adequately keep her shit together when performing live.

Yet Radiation City rarely let their at times heavy-handed studio work overwhelm the songs themselves. Where Animals in the Median often disguised the classicism in its songwriting with futuristic effects and brooding undertones, here the band builds that weirdness into the structure of the songs itself, and without undermining a series of golden hooks. The dichotomy between the Phil Spector-esque wall of electronic effects and shimmering synths, spliced against Ellison’s arch West Coast pop warning on “Separate,” expertly highlights this combo. “Come and Go,” another track that exploits the lovely combination of Ellison’s crystalline vocals with bandmate (and romantic partner) Cameron Spies’ more nonchalant approach, masks lyrics rife with dark, vaguely threatening imagery via an absolute earworm of a chorus. Occasionally, the group’s mishmash of styles comes off as heavy-handed; the Leave It To Beaver-core of “Futures” is so sickly sweet as to rot, and the emotional catharsis it strives for in its verses is undercut by that rictus grin of a chorus. Even Synesthetica’s misfires, though, are just charmingly inconsequential, a song like “Sugar Broom” less of a failure than a killer hook in search of a fuller song.

In the tradition of any number of albums with a lot of baggage – Spies and Ellison temporarily broke up during its recording, one band member was let go, and the creation of the record itself was done piecemeal – Synesthetica comes awfully close to falling apart at the seams. But even with the steam the record loses near its end, its willingness to go for broke seals it as the group’s most thrilling and cohesive record yet. Consider second single “Milky White,” a song that comes off as so overtly glam as to be blinding, but revels in the details that crisscross underneath that pulsating beat: the glitchy, thick drum sound, the organs and synths flitting back and forth, that snarling guitar riff and that arena-ready hook, sung in a call-and-response that begs to be replayed. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that should rightfully result in an overcooked mess. Radiation City instead make its addition seem seamless, a part and parcel with their history and current direction. That one can actually imagine “Milky White” filling up those arenas it aims for is a happy bonus.




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user ratings (26)
Chart.
3.5
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
February 9th 2016


12024 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"Juicy" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7Bb3snNrg4

RadicalEd
February 9th 2016


9417 Comments


Linked song is pre sweet. Review is great as usual.

larrytheslug
February 9th 2016


1587 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

this

sounds

interesting

SowingSeason
Moderator
February 9th 2016


29220 Comments


This was on my radar but now I'll definitely have to download it. Good review.

Digging: James Blake - Assume Form

Irving
Staff Reviewer
February 9th 2016


7504 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

Hey I liked "Sugar Broom"! :P But I can see where you're coming from though - it really does feel like they could have done a lot more with that chorus.



I still think I need a couple more listens to appraise this properly, but I daresay I'll likely end up rating it in the 3.6-3.8 range (which was also where I was expecting you to fall hahah). I'm certain I like it more than that DSD record though.



klap
Staff Reviewer
February 9th 2016


12024 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this probably started closer to 3 to me as i thought it sounded over-produced, but the hooks really started to come out the more i listened

Anthracks
February 9th 2016


6267 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This has been on the list. Polyvinyl usually delivers at least one outstanding album per year.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
February 10th 2016


7504 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

Over-produced is a perfectly understandable description hahah. Some of the songs here - as you rightly point out - are a mess. (the good kind, fortunately)

tempest--
February 11th 2016


20626 Comments


saw this the other day but the cover turned me off - might have to check it out now

AllTheFriendsICanGet
February 11th 2016


1 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is one of those albums where it's pretty exciting to mess with the EQ.

ScuroFantasma
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2016


11649 Comments


Great review Klap

klap
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2016


12024 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

thanks buds

wtferrothorn
February 11th 2016


5798 Comments


juicy be v fine

Asdfp277
February 11th 2016


19457 Comments


is this indie rock

wtferrothorn
February 11th 2016


5798 Comments


the track i've heard from it is pretty indie poppy

klap
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2016


12024 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

indie pop is the best umbrella genre for this ya

MercuryToHell
Contributing Reviewer
February 12th 2016


1336 Comments


This is totally not the type of thing I would usually dig but it had such an awesome write up that I had to give it a go - and I'm really glad I did.
It's blissful and airy without being too twee, overproduced and squelchy without being too glitchy and inaccessible, with some really nice vocals over the top.
Great album, great review.

Nymris11
February 12th 2016


4 Comments


Cool review convinced me to check this out, the title track is cool like you said.

torts
February 12th 2016


4300 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this is such a smoothly produced album fkkk

ThyCrossAwaits
February 12th 2016


3433 Comments


can't stop watching yr avatar while listening to "juicy" there klap



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