We’re counting down our 10 favorite records released in the Pacific Northwest in 2011, follow along! –
#6. Radiation City – The Hands That Take You (Tender Loving Empire)
Turn it up loud on the Hi-Fi and dive into the aquarium with me. Let the stereo sound wash over your entire body and put you in this room with these four instruments and as many voices. Close your eyes. You are in that room. The music bounces back and forth between your ears and the voices echo forever against the tall walls. Randy’s drum is just to your right but pointed away from you, Cameron Spies’ guitar a little further back on your left and Lizzy Ellison’s Rhodes is dead center, the bass stands in front of a set of stacks of speakers behind her. You are in the same room. This is certainly pop though like none I’ve heard, and this use of stereo is just one of many elements distinguishing Radiation City’s effort on The Hands that Take You.
Full of bold and sometimes unexpected melodies and yes, harmony-thick choruses, each song finds its own 3-dimensional texture. Instead of relying on predictable verse patterns with obvious changes or simply being a guitar-focused band these are songs by a symphony of four traversing movements and themes in the grandest possible way. The mix itself brings the audience in closer to Ellison as an intimate song might require and then has them step back to the center of the room to really realize the sound bouncing in every direction. This type of attention to detail is another hallmark of this record, this varied development of mood as each individual theme dictates.
Track One “Babies” is exactly what you think it’s about, the uneasy thrill of fresh motherhood, the relieved and excited but frightened feeling that there is probably a special literary word for in French, but Radiation City has so kindly translated for us in their own way. “Summer is Not an Act I” was the first track to emerge from this record, and as if Grizzly Bear were fronted by Portishead’s Beth Gibbons this track caught my interest immediately and kept it. Track 6 “Salsaness” changes pace entirely as the band visits the dancehall with a playfully produced pop song, one of a Latin American vintage not usually expected this far north. “Park” then turns 180 degrees again with guitarist Spies taking the lead vocal and its ever transforming shape in a constant state of teasing its heart-swollen hook of “Ba! Ba! Ba dada da’s” and “Ooooh-aaaah-oooh’s.”
Though not married to any of pop’s obvious frameworks or tried-and-true ingredients, and seemingly not dedicated to any particular formula at all for that matter, these songs aren’t lacking in their capacity for catchiness. Instead those moments that do hew to familiar interpretations of pop stand out that much more, the catchiness is condensed for maximum effect. Instead of wearing out their hooks by over use and draining the listener’s energy (or tolerance), when they do appear the hook is that much more effective, when they end it abruptly you already want more. A clever use of layered voicings, the use of “Oooohs” in general, the doubling of vocals, and a hefty dose of reverb amounts to it’s own ever-present hook of sorts, providing Ellison with her own virtual choir of forty as vocal accompaniment instead of just three others. Impressively, aside from the overused “Ba Ba” and the like (that’s admittedly fun a hell to sing along to), each song on The Hands that Take You succeeds in representing its own distinct identity. The record as a whole is varied, and engaging front-to-back in that unpredictability. It’s an impressive sound to count as Radiation City’s debut, and our favorite record out of Portland in 2011.
The Hands that Take You arrived via Radiation City’s DIY label Apes Tapes thanks to Portland’s Tender Loving Empire.