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Radian, "Distorted Rooms"

Distorted RoomsIt has somehow been seven years since this long-running Vienna trio last surfaced with 2016's stellar On Dark Silent Off, but they seem to have spent that time diligently dreaming up innovative new ways to be amazing. In a general sense, Radian's vision is not a far cry from the austere, jazz-adjacent post-rock of their celebrated labelmates Tortoise. The magic of Radian, however, lies in the band's singular attention to detail and their quixotic compulsion to continually turn sounds upside-down in imaginative feats of dynamic sorcery. The overall effect is akin to that of dub techno being made by an incredibly tight live band, but the live aspect is quite illusory, as Distorted Rooms presumably sounds almost nothing like what the band originally recorded (in fact, the band themself note that one piece "eliminates nearly all traces of the original performance"). While many of the sounds do remain present in one form or another, Radian revels in celebrating and amplifying the barely audible and non-musical bits while also eliminating or burying the louder, more traditional "rock" tropes like chords and melodies. Obviously, The Dead C have made a fine career out of similarly deconstructing and inverting rock music, but Radian are the gleaming, precision-engineered opposite of Dead C's own shambling, spontaneous, and blown-out vision.

Thrill Jockey

The opening "Cold Suns" was also the album's first single, but it is unclear if it was chosen because the band believed it to be one of the most perfect distillations of their vision or if they merely thought it was one of the album's more immediately gratifying pieces. I suspect the reason may be the latter, as the album's second single "Skyskryp12" features a similar level of comparatively heightened drama. For the most part, however, "Cold Suns" offers a fairly representative first impression of Radian's current direction: gently stuttering loops, killer drumming, and a remarkably minimalist palette of guitar sounds. Unlike many other songs on the album, however, it eventually coheres into a brooding and tense chord progression, which lands the piece in somewhere near the post-punk revivalism of Moin (at least until the bottom drops out for a lengthy outro of distorted vocals, smoldering distortion, whimpering synth quivers, and broken, skeletal drums). "Skyskryp12" has a roughly similar aesthetic, but with one key difference: after it collapses upon itself, it kicks back into gear and builds towards a darkly cinematic crescendo. While both pieces are admittedly enjoyable and satisfying, however, the album's strongest pieces tend to be the ones with a bit of a lighter touch.

My personal favorite is "Stak," which also happens to be the piece in which Radian obliterated their original performance almost entirely. In place of that erased performance, Radian conjures a wonderfully seething groove of quietly thumping kick drum, skittering cymbals, insistent bass throb, and a host of subtle guitar and amp noises. To my ears, it sounds like a refreshingly novel strain of dub techno in which the omnipresent warm, hazy synth pads are jettisoned entirely for a lean, muscular and industrial-damaged groove enhanced with a host of subtly echoing and psychotropic creaks and gurgles. Unfortunately, I am not sure anyone else could replicate this particular strain of dub, as Martin Brandlmayr's virtuosic "quiet storm" drumming feels like an absolutely essential ingredient. The other big highlight is "C At The Gates," which opens in a deceptively entropic state, but gradually coheres into a pleasantly broken and jazz-inflected groove of heavy industrial textures, sludgy seismic bass, and strangled feedback.

The following "Cicada" keeps that post-punk party going a little bit longer, albeit in somewhat more stomping and driving fashion, as it calls to mind an ingeniously remixed performance of someone like Ike Yard on an especially good night. The album then closes with a bit of a departure from that winning formula in "S at the Gates," but it makes for a fitting coda, as Radian stretches and breaks their groove into a fractured, sputtering, and dissolving state of suspended animation. That one purposeful exception aside, Distorted Rooms is one killer, exactingly realized hit after another, so it looks like I will remain a devoted Radian fan for the foreseeable future. By any metric, this is an excellent album, as the trio are masters at manipulating dynamic tension, ruthlessly carving away every trace of fat in search of taut perfection, and inventively transforming familiar instruments in unexpected ways. In fact, serious fans of sound design and studio technique may very well consider this album to be a masterpiece of sorts, as this is one of the most fascinating examples in recent memory of how radically a performance by an ostensible rock band can be transformed into something sleek and futuristic through creative mic placement and unconventional mixing decisions.

Listen here.