[FUTURE POP] I don’t think the members of Radiation City are perfectionists, but together they make some perfect pop music. The Portland quintet’s live shows sound like elaborately produced studio recordings, and its spacey, soulful 2011 debut record sounded too otherworldly and precise to have come from a city known for rustic folk-pop and muddy doom metal. And now Radiation City sounds like it’s from another planet.
The Cool Nightmare EP—with all its spy-movie twang and cosmic reverb—hints at sexy European influences like Portishead and Air (I’m also convinced some of Rad City’s roots can be traced to the Cardigans’ spacey ’90s super-hit, “Lovefool”) without undercutting the band’s DIY credentials. It can be hard to believe, at times, that this explosive and cinematic seven-song collection was recorded by the band’s members in a remote cabin and a basement.
Not that Cool Nightmare sounds stuffy. Though the recordings are largely pristine, one hears little idiosyncrasies—random amplifier buzz, studio voices haunting tracks, the depressingly underwhelming round of applause midway through “Hide From the Night”—that could presumably be manicured by some outside producer to sound as cool as Coldplay. But those imperfections keep Cool Nightmare real. After all, in the wrong hands, singer/songwriter/pianist Lizzy Ellison becomes Adele (no, really, she can sing like crazy) and the whole thing blows up in Radiation City’s face.
Cool Nightmare stands proudly above the blog-buzz muck because this band is brilliant, courageous and largely democratic. Cameron Spies and co. have diverse enough tastes to keep the music entirely unpredictable, but they’re focused enough to keep it all dry under the same umbrella. These are songs that really need to be described in parts: “Find It of Use” starts like a Latin-jazz advertising jingle played in reverse before launching into what literally sounds like a countdown and blastoff; “Eye of Yours” takes a mid-song tropical vacation; “Winter Blind” opens with a robot army on the march and ends with a twisted reinterpretation of David Bowie’s “Five Years” (really, the whole EP is on a bit of a death trip).
Cool Nightmare is a must-hear EP, but perhaps more impressive, Radiation City is a self-made band—and it’s doing just about everything right.