Thursday, August 7, 2008

Don't Forget About... Lesser Matters

The next entry in my series spotlighting under-appreciated albums.

You know, I’ve listened to this so many times, I probably don’t need a refresher listen to write this post. The Radio Dept,’s Lesser Matters is not only one of my favorite records, but it’s a flawless album…

It’s not that it’s groundbreaking or revolutionary or genius or any of that; Lesser Matters won’t blow your mind. It is, in fact, a relatively straightforward pop/rock album with shoegaze undertones.

Unlike most shoegaze, however, The Radio Dept. doesn’t try to wash your feet out from under you with noise. They, instead, transport you to another time and place with ambience. Take, for example, “Slottet #2”. On the surface, it’s a little instrumental break in the record. A bit deeper in the mix lay echoes of rustling leaves. This smart little addition instantly puts you on a country lane in the fall, making the song necessary to the flow of the album. Brilliant.

This approach works great with the vocal tracks, as well. A touch of ambient haze makes each song seem like a fond memory, placing importance and familiarity on the reflective lyrics. Though I was only 10 in 1995, the song bearing the same name makes me nostalgic for the days of my distant childhood. When they sing, “You can’t touch me ‘cause I’m way beyond you today,” in the song “Strange Things Will Happen”, the listener is really placed on an emotional plateau. If everyone viewed art as the search for emotional beauty and serenity, this would be a hallmark of the music medium.

It’s not as if that’s even the highlight of the album, though. If anything, the shoegaze element is simply an afterthought, a footnote in the list of things that makes Lesser Matters so great. At one point I got so stuck trying to choose a song off this album while making a mix for my soon-to-be wife, I decided just to give her the entire CD. It’s like every track is the record’s strong point. In a perfect world these would be hits burning up the charts. If only…

But that’s the thing; Lesser Matters isn’t about “what if,” it’s about what was. If you want a quiet evening of reflection, pop this sucker in and sit back – it’s a memory stimulant. Gosh, the first time I heard this thing, I didn’t leave the couch until I completed the third listen. Each minute of Lesser Matters distracts you from your surroundings and puts you somewhere else. It’s the audio equivalent to reading a great book, and, being 43 minutes long, it’s highly (but not dangerously) addictive.

Oh, and it’s not just an album full of great individual songs. Lesser Matters works great as a whole, starting out with a fast pace and traversing a unique ebb and flow. They give and take, stopping for a breath with the afore-mentioned “Slottet #2”. When Lesser Matters concludes, it does so with flair and perfect timing. Each arrangement is packed with melodies and hooks, but not so many to make the listener’s head spin. Each composition suits the song just right. There is nothing less than ideal about this record.

As is the case with such brilliant debuts, The Radio Dept. has spun their wheels a bit since they put out Lesser Matters back in 2004. The Swedes' last few releases, while pretty good, lack the same unspoken something that makes this one so great. That’s okay, though. This album will provide memories for a lifetime.

The Radio Dept. - Lesser Matters

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