And the Surrounding Mountains
In writing about the Radar Brothers, the biggest challenge, one that I am about to muff splendidly in this very sentence, is to avoid comparing them to Pink Floyd. But to deny the inflatable pig that hovers in your consciousness as you listen to And the Surrounding Mountains would be knavish. Now I know that "progressive rock" has gained a little credibility in the last couple of years, but no one, not even the proggiest of proglodytes, lauds poor Floyd. In fact, it is hard to understate the achievement of the Radar Brothers: They are an extremely listenable, inspirational, and, most of all, guilt-free updating of Pink Floyd. Gone are the Orwellian harangues, the study-hall antiestablishmentarianism, and the bloated arrangements. And I'm not even going to mention the dismal dregs that were Floyd's releases in the late '80s and early '90s -- The Division Bell and The Delicate Sound of Phoning It In. The Radar Brothers' And the Surrounding Mountains retains the mournful majesty, the spacebound introspection, and those amazing songs that imperceptibly swell with grandeur.
It's been three years since the Radar Brothers' last album, The Singing Hatchet, and the most obvious improvement has been in the production, all of which was overseen by lead brother Jim Putnam in his renovated home studio. The amount of time put into this endeavor is easy to discern. And the Surrounding Mountains is an incredibly lush recording; its sonic strata recall the neutral-hued layers of the desertscapes that adorn the front cover. With song titles populated by so many family members -- "You and the Father," "Sisters," "Uncles," and "Mothers" -- the album has the mood of a trip home for the holidays -- only without the esophagus-clogging shame and self-loathing.
The Radar Brothers, due to their somnambulatory gait, also get lumped in with bands like Low and Codeine in the unfortunately titled "slowcore" genre. I prefer the term used by the Radar Brothers themselves -- "sophisticated minimalism." Imagine if Neil Young's Crazy Horse got all sophisticatedly minimal and sent all of their chunky riffs to a rich-kid fat camp to slim down. Well, for one thing, they'd have to change their name to Fancy White Pony or something, but they would also sound a little like the Radar Brothers. --