The Radio Dept. are a curious band. Their music could be easily deemed as nostalgic, yet it’s uncertain what it’s nostalgic for. Their work is often dreamy, yet sharing an unbeatable sense of reality and politics. Over the past few years The Radio Dept. have created, over a wall of shoegaze and dream pop, anthems for youth and rebellion that resist categorization. In that sense, 2010’s Clinging to a Scheme was a masterclass on how to build a narrative on nostalgia without being overtly political. It’s clear that nostalgia is involved somewhere in the music, yet it is hard to pinpoint exactly where it's coming from. Making your influences invisible is a difficult feat to master after all.
Running Out of Love, the new album, is the band’s most pragmatic release yet. A darker, more calculated and electronic-influenced take on certain political moments, this is the sound of a band preoccupied with the political now also using some tools from the past. It is fair to say that Running Out of Love signifies a revolution for the band: their music once sounded hazy and unspecific, as the listener was allowed to gather their own ideals into the songs. Now the picture is clearer.
The ambitious nature of this project meets the sound. Running Out Of Love could be considered their first album to depend heavily on electronic music — or, perhaps more accurately, at some of its best moments, Running Out Of Love is a deep house album. A profoundly humane and conflicted deep house album.
“Swedish Guns” demonstrates that The Radio Dept.’s discourse and critiques have never been this sharp. They have also never been this direct: “The Swedish guns / And every life they took / with Swedish guns / Now everywhere you look / it’s Swedish guns”, it’s said.
We should have seen this shift coming. Shared early last year, “Occupied” is the album’s political and creative center. Constructed over a thumping beat and drone, this is The Radio Dept. at their most thematically merciless: over a seven-minute track, Johan Duncanson speaks of grief, capitalism and power.
Yet, the discourse never feels alienating. That’s because Running Out of Love also has its human side (its latter half, to be more precise). “Can’t Be Guilty” is the only true pop song to be found in the album — something so quiet and dreamlike that could have been found in their previous works.
What is certainly undeniable is that Running Out of Love showcases a band that has been frustrated for too long. Perhaps we could have have witnessed something like that in Clinging to a Scheme’s criticism of the bourgeois, yet that was a scattered view of the world. This is a darker, more direct take from a band that sees in pop music a place to distill their ideas.
Which brings me back to that initial thought: The Radio Dept. have always relied on dreamy soundscapes in order to get their message across. Now they speak of drinking Cuba Cola (“This Thing Was Bound to Happen”, one of the album’s finest moments). Some could hear the sound of a band losing all their meaning, which is understandable. The Radio Dept. stopped perfecting the music that involves abstract concepts like youth and innocence. They started taking action. B PLUS