REVIEW: The Radio Dept. and Germans at BMH (3/7)

I don’t envy the bands of my teenage years.

I adored them as much as a person with a life experience confined to New England and a wardrobe dominated by Catholic school uniforms possibly could, but envy? Absolutely not.

The music of teenage years usually remains in amber as we age, the attached experiences conjured up whenever we come across old love letters from an ex, forgotten photos, and all the other bullshit paraphernalia we keep from high school.

The distance in taste forms as we grow; our lust for memories and romanticism in music dwindles. We replace juvenile heart-wringing with more robust desires like emotionally stable lyricists or completely innocuous music altogether. For a time, The Radio Dept. were the type of band so deeply entwined with my high school years, they seemed destined to be boxed up with the rest of my teenage angst.

For starters, they’re a solitary dream pop band from Sweden, ensuring an air of mystery and a certainty that I wouldn’t see them until my mid-thirties (if ever.) Their songs are the impassioned declarations for the painfully shy, where a lustful gaze could set heaven on fire and a terrible taste in music is a cardinal sin. Singer Johan Duncanson’s distant coo is almost always lovelorn, whether he’s caught up in ‘90s nostalgia or Sweden’s immoral right wing government. Throw in the band’s penchant for buzzing guitars and tinny drum machines and you’ve tapped into something dangerously wistful in the hands of a teenager with a penchant for falling asleep on roofs while stargazing.

As of May, I’ll be about three years shy of my high school’s ten year reunion. My teenage self wouldn’t have been able to comprehend the fact that I was seeing The Radio Dept. finally, but I imagine he would’ve similarly debated whether to sway or earnestly dance to “Teach Me To Forget,” the closing track on last year’s Running Out Of Love.

Meanwhile, Duncanson is practically begging for his memories to be erased on “Forget” over a four-on-the-floor beat, his regrets serving as the culprit for killing his band’s nostalgic leanings. Part of me can’t shake the daydream of everyone’s seventeen year old selves in attendance also standing in the back of the club, itching the x’s on their hands, pleading in confusion over Duncanson’s divorce from obsessive memory. Then again, “Forget” is the kind of move a band looking to transcend their much-documented emotional angst would make. In its place, a new, fuller personality emerges, one that doesn’t shy from being outwardly political and wearing their lo-fi house influences front and center.

Following Brooklyn duo Germans’ lounge-y disco introduction, The Radio Dept. crafted a setlist that was equal parts Love-fest and career-spanning retrospective, including a few surprise deep cuts. The inclusions of b-sides “The New Improved Hypocrisy” and “Death to Fascism” were obviously received well amongst the four piece’s obsessive fanbase. Bookending Love’s dancier tracks “We Got Game” and “Committed to the Cause”, Clinging To A Scheme single “David” made for a nice mid-show realization that The Radio Dept. probably always has had a dance-ready quality to their sound.

Even more revelatory, the band’s political side has (quietly) always been a subject in their lyrics, but Duncanson seems to have become cheekier in addressing it (he sarcastically quipped that “Game” is about “how much we love the police”)

Encoring with two of their oldest fan favorites (“1995” and “Why Won’t You Talk About It?” from Lesser Matters) feels customary for a band that seldom tours the States, but the packed-in Brighton Music Hall seemed as eager for the Love material as they did for the encore.

Maybe it’s pessimistic, but I inevitably expect even more distance to grow between myself and my teenage idols as I drift further into my twenties. It’s inevitable and I’m alright with it so long as a few of them defy expectations and maintain their relevancy. For now, as long as The Radio Dept. continue passive-aggressively goading cops and writing perfect dream pop songs, I’ll be open to the occasional rooftop nap under the stars.

For more photos from the show, check out our gallery below.

Setlist:

  1. Sloboda Narodu
  2. Committed To The Cause
  3. We Got Game
  4. David
  5. Never Follow Suit
  6. The New Improved Hypocrisy
  7. Bus
  8. Running Out Of Love
  9. The Worst Taste In Music
  10. Heaven’s On Fire
  11. Death To Fascism
  12. Swedish Guns
  13. Teach Me To Forget
  14. Occupied

Encore:

  • 1995
  • Why Won’t You Talk About It?

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