For well over ten years, The Radio Dept. have been deft architects of gentle dream-pop tracks about love, lust, and being keen on boys, and the success of Johan Duncansson and co. is thanks in part to an unrivaled knack for churning up irresistibly unspecific sonic reveries. Duncansson’s tendency toward lyrical ambiguity leaves just enough room for listeners to copy-paste the band’s open-ended narratives onto their own romantic (dis)entanglements and emotional burdens. This is a touchstone of a skilled songwriter, and it’s helped build The Radio Dept.’s reputation as an outfit that thrives on evoking feelings of hurts-so-good, happy-sad nostalgia.
It’s a sound that's steeped in the misguided mental gymnastics of adolescence. It’s fuzzy guitars and smeared-on synths provoke a sense of longing for times when the specter of innocence loomed over your brain’s every passing thought, tickling your neurons in just a way so as to infect you with some phony existential kryptonite, instantly doubling the agony associated with whatever your problem is.
On 'Running Out Of Love', The Radio Dept. are tasked with following up 2010's 'Clinging To A Scheme', an outstandingly robust effort that begins with a question and an answer: "When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business, what are the youth to do? I think we should destroy the bogus, capitalist process that is destroying youth culture”.
At the time, it seemed like an uncharacteristic snippet of political commentary from a band that, with the exception of a few tracks, hadn’t exactly made anthemic protest songs their calling card. The Swedish band’s latest release is their most politically-charged record by a country mile, making the Q&A that intros ‘Clinging To A Scheme’ feel more like an apt bit of foreshadowing than an anomaly.
The first half of the album is emblazoned with political motifs— ‘Swedish Guns’ laments the nation’s burgeoning arms industry, while the slow, euphoric rise of 'Sloboda Narodu' takes its title from a Yugoslav Partisan slogan meaning “death to fascism, freedom to the people”. The gorgeous, minute-long interlude ‘Thieves of State’ swirls in a Boards of Canada-inspired trance.
Past its midway point, ‘Running Out Of Love’ is markedly less heavy-handed in its political activism. The dance floor thud of ‘Teach Me To Forget’ feels like the band’s best Jamie xx or Caribou impression. The stifling brazenness of tracks like ‘Swedish Guns’ is swapped for more veiled and nuanced attempts at making a statement - ‘Committed To The Cause’ is softened by festive percussion and synth bursts, and ‘Can’t Be Guilty’ showcases The Radio Dept. at their melodic best with a real gem of a hook: “not even death could lay its hands on me/I’m fast asleep and can’t be guilty”.
With ‘Running Out of Love’, The Radio Dept. have come forward with their most adventurous and challenging material to date. It has less space for guitars and a greater role for drum machines and clapping, EDM-style percussion. For what it loses in foggy teenage melancholy it makes up for in directness and resolute execution.
Rather than risk nestling ever-deeper into their cushy role as purveyors of twee-approved, candied indie-rock, The Radio Dept. have opted for a collection of songs that is as decidedly unapologetic as it is cemented in political sludge.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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