How do you know when a band has “made it?” A shiny, multi-record deal? The disdain of hipsters for going mainstream? A new touring van that doesn’t smell like feet and sweat? I’m not actually sure that what it means matters all that much, but for Radiation City, a notable feather in the cap is the upcoming Synesthetica, the group’s first album since signing with Polyvinyl Records, home to acts like STRFKR, Wampire, Deerhoof and Of Montreal. To put that in proper context, you’d have to ask the band. They’re probably happy. If you’ve tracked the group’s sonic evolution since the first album in 2011, you’d notice a group violently allergic to stasis. The growth in both depth and breadth is apparent. Synesthetica represents an attention to detail and finesse that is the result of deliberate honing.
Lead single “Juicy” is a fine mix of oozy instrumentals and catchy pop hooks welded finely together into a song that feels familiar even if it’s the first time you’ve heard it. Throughout the album, Radiation City walks the delicate line between expansive sounds and intimate moments. “Oil Show” is light and jumpy, with an upbeat bass line and bouncy percussion, and Elisabeth Ellison’s vocals are as strong as ever. In fact, throughout Synesthetica, all strong instrumental work aside, Ellison’s power is on full display–it’s not so much a “coming-out party” as it is a declaration of excellence to anyone who may have somehow underestimated her the first few times around.
“Milky White” is demonstrative of another common thread weaving throughout the album: the tightness of the rhythm section. Bassist Dasha Shleyeva and drummer Randy Bemrose have discovered a new level. Powering through bass lines that ride the back beat and syncopation with plenty of high-hat, the duo lock in on each track, knowing exactly when to bash to the forefront, and when to pull back.
For all the sound, Radiation City still knows how to be delicate. “Separate” is a lovely, soft tune framed by acoustic guitar that floats around, meandering here and there, and demonstrating the ability to lay out a deft touch when desired.
Synesthetica is as good an album as one could ask for from a group coming on with a new record label. It’s thorough, powerful and varied. The attention to detail is as strong as the highest crescendo, and the individual instrumental and vocal work is spoton. It is a bar-raising addition to the Radiation City discography.
– Charles Trowbridge
Radiation City celebrates the release of Synesthetica live March 19 at Mississippi Studios
EDITOR’S NOTE: This album was selected as one of our 11 favorite Portland albums of 2016. Jump to the other year-end selections below.