Album Review: The Illustrated Garden by Radar Bros.
Fairly Good, Based on 5 Critics
Prefix Magazine - 75 Based on rating 7.5/10
This year has seen the return of Pavement, the poster children for that whole slacker-rock thing. But to me that label never quite seemed to fit Malkmus and the gang. Sure, they sounded laid-back and loose, even at their most rocking. But it all seemed so carefully conceived, so determined in its aloofness.
After several solid albums-- many of them released by Merge-- and almost 15 years of effort, the bulk of Los Angeles' Radar Bros. have jumped ship. Among the notables left behind is singer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Jim Putnam, who arguably has always been the band's central figure. Ironically, getting whittled down to one primary member probably makes it easier to stretch out the lifespan of a band, and Putnam soon rechristened the group Radar Brothers and recruited a new rhythm section (bass player Be Hussey and drummer Stevie Treichel) to record The Illustrated Garden.
What's that old cliché about "the more things change"? The Radar Bros' sixth album finds Jim Putnam breaking in yet another lineup of the band, with the singer, guitarist, and songwriter partnering with Be Hussey (ex-Morsel) on bass, keyboards, and guitar, and Stevie Treichel on drums and percussion. But a new set of collaborators hasn't had much audible impact on the Radar Bros; The Illustrated Garden is still dominated by the same sort of graceful but languid melodies and artfully incongruous lyrics that have been Putnam's stock in trade since the group's first album in 1996. The Illustrated Garden does feel a bit livelier and more concise than its immediate precursor, 2008's Auditorium; the interplay between the musicians feels honest and organic, and "Rainbow" and "Quarry" suggest that Putnam and his compatriots could have actually rocked out if they'd had the ambition.
Jim Putnam’s ragged band of road warriors has faced a fair share of peaks and valleys these past few years. Radar Bros. have become a revolving door of traveling wilburys working at a feverish pace to perfect Putnam’s soulful vision of rock and pop into an album’s worth of unforgettable melodies. In the face of drastic lineup change, it’s a wonder The Illustrated Garden has found its way into the world.
“I’m a deer in your headlights”, singer Jim Putnam tells us as the start of this gauzy, languid record, “and I’m a bird in your gunsights. ” It’s an appropriate beginning to a record rife with animal imagery—song titles include “For the Birds”, “Horses Warriors”, “Chickens”, and even “People”—and lyrics suggestive of self-doubt, bordering on self-loathing. The Illuminated Garden is either the sixth record from Radar Brothers or their first, depending on your method of accounting: having released five previous records as Radar Bros, the band split, leaving Putnam to restock the rhythm section and carry on with new bassist Be Hussey and drummer Steve Treichel.