Somnambule - Writing About Music

Radian ~ Juxtaposition

Radian are a Chicago-based improvising trio and this release comes out on the inestimable Thrill Jockey label, home to much innovative American music. The group are made up of Martin Brandlmayr on drums, vibes and computer, Stefan Nemeth on synths, guitar and computer, and John Norman on bass. Juxtaposition is their third album.

First track Shift is radioactive electronica played on instruments. It’s supple and subtly forbidding. For the first few minutes the group busy themselves with a multiplicity of different tests both electronic and rhythmic, as though they’re looking for something. Then at the three minute mark they find it - just the right timbre to convincingly emulate a circular saw slicing at high speed through timber. This discovery prompts a Jaki Liebezeit-indebted drum pattern to kick in. Things surge forward thereafter. There’s a sense of elements mixed and matched to create a new, sculpted form. The result is both controlled and wild: the mixture, the interplay is definitely interesting. Vertigo is finely judged, slight and just the right side of pensive. It moves forward as furtively as a guerilla able to walk jungle paths blindfold. Although four and a half minutes long it seems over almost before it’s begun (this must be a byproduct of its stealth). Brandlmayer’s drumming on Rapid Eye Movement is a particular delight, his cymbal control slicing clean through the noisy digital ruffage which stretches across the track like power cables shuddering dangerously between pylons.

Juxtaposition is cooly contemporary, like a darker, more pencil-sharp To Rococo Rot. Whoever’s manipulating the electronic effects is surely a fan of Pan Sonic’s tamperings with mains voltage. However there’s something distinctively elegant and careful about the album as a whole: even when they’re ratcheting the noise up to 10, there’s a sense of contemplative refinement about the experience. It would be unfair to apply the term Post Rock to Radian, that uneasy term too easily evokes earnest attempts at intellectualising an intuitive form whilst summarily ignoring the funk and blues roots which gave the original such power - however weasly its present incarnation may be. Cool, calm and with just the barest hint of the psychotic, this is the sound of musicians experimenting with some of the territory opened up by electronica, and simultaneously exploring the possibilities of performance in relation to this relatively new ground. One to watch. (Hats off too to the gorgeous photographs and cover design.

Colin Buttimer
August 2004
Published by the BBC