When the Radar Brothers solemnly strike into the opener of this album, singing of “The sunlight making sure of the hatred on their faces,” a tone is set for the rest of this stately affair. Where the Californian weather rules over all of the state’s inhabitants, human and animal; where the breadth of the horizon inspires only fatalism and lethargy.
Jim Putnam sings as if he is the puppet strung up to the cirrocumulus clouds, drifting around half-remembered melodies and muttering snippets of resigned knowledge. It’s when these clouds gather and cast a shadier light over the music that it becomes most memorable, where lyrics describing the absolute numbness of sunburnt existence meld with rolling harmonies: “Hey / is that blood washing through my feet again coming from me? / Hey / are those waves burying me?” It is the sound of people so controlled by the greater external forces that to notice and clean the wounds is a step too far into existentialism.
In fact, with lyrics and music this placid and acceptant, it seems a small miracle that these songs were ever even written, never mind taken into a recording studio or out onto the road. This isn’t a half-formed album as such, just that it’s statued unchanging tempo and unvarying instrumentation leave potential developments lying by the roadside. The total regularity of the album is what will endear it to some and bore others – minimal changes mean that small details like the Grandaddy-style synths in 'An Ant Floating in Milk' become glaring standout moments. Regularity can mean cohesiveness but also a plodding sleepiness: the sound of the struggle against drooping eyelids and sinking limbs. Guitar solos to the Radar Brothers need not be any more than the two notes, and, in ode to a dying butterfly 'Papillon', two notes are more than enough to be functional. It can be speculated that Beck's Sea Change era was influenced heavily by Putnam et al: they were at one point labelmates and Beck has nominated them for America’s Short List prize. The Radar Brothers' (arguably) best work, The Singing Hatchet, was released in 1999, three years prior to Sea Change. Sadly, The Fallen Leaf Pages doesn’t quite stand up to said earlier album, where harmonies were thicker, songs more laden and melodies transcendent. This new release sounds like a mimic of Beck’s slow-core years rather than being the influence of them.
Still, this is beautiful listening for horizontal days, insomniac waiting and those times that the wind seems to scatter and blow parts of your life in opposite directions. Next time you see the last bus to town pull out of the empty bus stop, wheels turning up the grey dust from the floor, as you stand a hundred metres away, unable to move fast enough to catch it, the Radar Brothers will understand the futility that surrounds you.
6Rachel Cawley's Score