The Radio Dept. have been described as belonging to numerous subgenres of pop music (indie pop, synth pop), but Wikipedia probably has it right: dream pop is the most accurate way to describe their sound. Watching the sold-out show Wednesday night at the 7th Street Entry felt like just that, a dream. A lucid, fanciful dream played in slow motion and set at a latitude so far north that sometimes the sun doesn’t come out for weeks.
The band hail from Lund, Sweden, and I could almost feel the icy chill on my skin as the set opened and the somber-but-not-depressed mood evoked by their sound—no doubt inspired by growing up and writing music in such a climate—set in. This dusky, frosty aura can be noted in Scandinavian artists of other genres, like ambient project Fever Ray, electrojazz band Little Dragon, and indie rockers Junip.
The Radio Dept. are Johan Duncanson (vocals and guitar), Martin Larsson (rhythm guitar), and Daniel Tjäder (keyboards and, well, MacBook). The trio formed over 15 years ago, and you can certainly tell that this is a band that have been producing music and adapting their sound for years. Throwback tracks like “Ewan” (off their critically-acclaimed debut Lesser Matters, released in 2003) leaned more towards the alt-rock end of the spectrum and away from the richer, more complex sound of their recent material (leaving poor Tjäder looking a bit useless and bewildered); newer tracks like those from 2010’s Clinging to a Scheme really showcased the band’s evocative, sleepy-sexy vibe.
Pitch-black except for minimal stage lighting that gave the impression the band was under a heat lamp, just the very tops of their heads beginning to thaw, the Entry was the perfect complement to the band’s sound—and a marked contrast to the environment I’d previously been subject to when I accompanied Jay Gabler to a screening of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. (Read the story of our night in Vita.mn, and Jay’s review of the film in the Daily Planet.) Instead of waifish tween girls in neon, homemade Bieb merch, we encountered what seemed like a neverending sea of 30-something dudes: the kind of dudes who keep their winter coat on and enjoy the music standing in place, subtly nodding along to the beat.
Though they were physically reserved, the attendees were not unenthusiastic. Rather, it seemed like the entire crowd comprised of long-time fans, as there were loud cheers before popular tunes (“David” seemed to be the favorite), intermittent screams of such gems as, “We love Sweden!” and vocalized demands like, “C’mon, you know which one we want you to play!” Though the music was chill (pun kind of intended), this kept the mood up and the atmosphere groovy.
The band themselves were utterly silent except when Duncanson introduced songs, but no matter; this only added to the ambiance. After a solid set and a one-song encore (which the crowd begged for), the band unceremoniously retreated. As I bundled up and walked out into the 18-below night, crossed an empty street, and entered a lonely, vacant parking garage, I couldn’t help but think that The Radio Dept. made a pretty perfect soundtrack to the experience.