on 29 July 2006
Second Album Syndrome frequently gets waived for bands who never quite made it. Recently, as The Futureheads and Snow Patrol crumbled under the pressure of their new-found adoration with dull albums designed to hold on to mass appeal, TV On The Radio and Broken Social Scene made beautiful, adventurous and rewarding follow-ups. And so it is with Sweden's The Radio Dept., who won a huge amount of acclaim and places on Best Of 2004 lists (somehow finishing in the top 10 of the NME list) with the astonishing 'Lesser Matters', a hazy, dream-like album and a slow-burning gem to almost everyone who bought it. Despite the attention, The Radio Dept. hardly became a household name, although Pet Grief was anticipated highly for people lucky enough to know about their brand of shoegazy indie-pop.
'Pet Grief' is a more laid-back affair than its predecessor, with none of the loud, 'Loveless'-style bursts of nosie found on the first half of that album. Though the whole album works beautifully as a whole- best played laying down gazing at the clouds (or, I guess, shoes)- there are a few immediate standouts. They have clearly mastered the difficult art of beautiful pop songs, which were so abundant on their first album. Single 'The Worst Taste In Music' is probably their best yet, for both the tune and the hazy, gorgeous production. It's also a success lyrically- "He's got the worst taste in music," sings frontman Johan Duncanson of an ex's new boyfriend, "if I didn't know this I'd lose it". 'What Will Give' is the other highlight, a sweet lament backed by scratchy pianos. Each track is glazed with wispy synths and buried guitar, and on songs like the title track, it lends a nice '80s feel to juxtapose with the hipster-friendly indie-rock sound. Their drummer must also be a bit of a pushover because he is frequently replaced with a machine. Perhaps it's necessary to make him redundant, though, as this only adds to the electronic sheen which they have perfected on this album.
Though the similarity of a number of the tracks may be tiresome for some (if you get bored easily of soft vocals and plucked guitar, this album probably isn't for you), this gentle but gorgeous work sits alongside Jeniferever and Sambassadeur as a strong argument that the Swedish are currently the best at smooth indie-pop. While it doesn't quite reach the modern-classic status of 'Lesser Matters', it still fills the odd gap of soothing-yet-interesting indie which has opened up amidst the chaos of a lot of the current crop new bands. It's an album to soak up with a satisfied grin plastered throughout. With little hype, 'Pet Grief' may well sneak up on a whole new set of fans, and I have no doubts about their third doing exactly the same.