Saturday, August 24, 2013

Radiant Republic three against four

A warning, this might get awkward...
I wasn't aware of Radiant Republic, nor Radiant Republic of Texas, nor  Brad Pennington. Evidently, they/he are somewhat related to others I do know, and that's probably how they came across this blog, and then, requested that I give their stuff a listen.
Now, I do get sent stuff fairly frequently, and most of the time I don't mention it at all because it's crap, and who wants to waste time on that? So, I'm mentioning Radiant Republic because I do see a fair amount of value in what they do- but there is some hesitation because what they do is very, very opaque.
See, the title is a reference to polyrhythm- three against four is a fairly simple polyrhythm- something that Talking Heads might do. Radiant Republic start where Frank Zappa leaves off in terms of rhythmic complexity- but then, they're fairly atonal as well. On top of that, they'll go in for extremely close harmonies- almost microtonal. If all this is gibberish to you, Radiant Republic are not for you. If the part that throws you off from Sun Ra is the improvisation, you don't want to listen to Sun Ra. If advanced music theory bothers you, you will just hear Radiant Republic as noise.
Now, I'm not without my background- they say that music critics are frustrated musicians- I don't think that's true. I think music critics, and film critics, and restaurant critics are all frustrated English Majors. I come from really frustrated musicians- techies. Sound Engineers, lighting techs, roadies, and the like- these are some real frustrated musicians. I was definitely one of them, and yet, I still wouldn't say I'm a "frustrated" musician- I would say I'm a decent musician, in terms of technical proficiency, but severely lacking in talent when it comes to artistry and inspiration. Give me an hour, and I can master a set of notes. but, I could have unlimited time, and I still won't come up with something that can make you happy or sad, or feel much of anything.
This is why the "music as competition" thing that you see especially in Heavy Metal guitarists is so utterly stupid to me. I don't care if you can play 8 million downstrokes in 30 seconds, have mastered circular picking and finger independence, and play on a 24 string guitar- can you write a song that makes another person feel something?
So, Radiant Republic are extremely proficient musicians. But is there Art? Well, like I said, there is value to what they do. Like Marnie Stern, like Battles, like Dillinger Escape Plan, they can make theory work for them. I tend to prefer when they slow it down a bit, like on " Ghost Towns of the Future" because the harmonies, while still close, are a little easier to process. They want me to review it, though, and I'm afraid I can't give them the pull away quotes that most bands want for a press release. The music is too dense, and too opaque to give you some two sentence summation. A "RIYL" type of genre classification is near impossible. Basically, the audience for this is going to be limited to those who can appreciate both the aforementioned Marnie Stern, but also Slint, and Sweep the Leg Johnny. Pop Math rock with deliberate nods to both no wave and post rock? Yeah, that's going to crack Vevo wide open. About the only way I could sell this to you is as a kind of challenge-a "can you handle it?" type of elitism. Given what I just said about my background, guess how good I am with that?
So, the most honest thing I can say is that if you're like me- able to hear and analyze a fair amount of music theory, but also able to see how that's all just a tool chest for what music really is about- communication, beauty, inspiration, and edification- you might get the same charge that I get from hearing almost John Zorn levels of abstract complexity get resolved into nearly Jesus and Mary Chain primal buzz. Math Rock? Well, yes, and there are parts where the math definitely overtakes the rock, and I do tune out at those points.  But, on some of the tracks, "High Road", "Ghost Towns of the Future" and "Variations IX" in particular, there can be moments that are exquisite. So, if you're of the type that likes this sort of thing- if names like Sweep the Leg Johnny mean something besides the Karate Kid, you'll probably dig it. If not, don't worry, I'll be talking about Dead Meadow and Franz Ferdinand in the near future....


  1. Hey, thanks for covering this so quickly! I enjoyed reading it and I think it's an accurate assessment, even though the perspective from within the band is quite different (it's much more 'organic' and less "let's confuse and alienate people" than you might think.)

    I admit I had to read it several times to get a feel for the whole piece and make sense of the little contradictions within it, so on that note.. touche! We both seem more interested in honest reactions than 'soundbites'. -BP/RR

  2. Glad you like it. I can tell that you're reaching for something a bit more involved than "Rawk On!", but, I'm sure it's more organic than "Hey, I wonder what happens when we put a 6/8 guitar line over an 11/7 bass line". So, the dilemma for me is how do I explain that you're not doing either pure abstract experimentation, nor dance music- I mean you're not quite at the Tortoise type post-rock crowd, but fans of that might find your stuff to be an acceptable pop outlet- meanwhile, the post-metal crowd, say, an Isis or Pelican fan might find your stuff a bit dry at spots. So, the best area I can process it through is "math rock"- and that seems like a fairly good fit- and much like other math rock, I tend to end up liking between 2 and 3 fifths ( all puns intended). I can't go in for it all, but there are bits that I really like. If you've got a few hours to well and truly kill, take a look at previous posts- I think my tastes are pretty obvious- and I'm self-aware enough to know that I am just as much a sucker for big dumb rock as the next guy, but I can appreciate the more esoteric as well...