Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Album Review: Strays by Radar State (by Richard Mair)

In a scene that is generally typified by flash in the pan trends and fads (screamo / metalcore / however many generations of ska we’ve now decided we’re on etc.) it’s always refreshing to hear something that, whilst not trying to pigeon hole itself, is both forward thinking and creative yet also so intrinsically a throwback to simple times and simpler music. Radar States debut album “Strays” is one such release. On first spin, this is pure bubblegum pop in the vein of numerous Lookout bands of yesteryear or even one of my favourite forgotten gems of the past Ruth Ruth. Yet, scratch the surface and the supergroup credentials on show shine through; this shouldn’t be considered a curiosity given the players involved. This is an essential release bringing some summer pop songs to long cold winter nights!

So, let’s deal with the super group elements: The Get Up Kids’ Matt Pryor is a bonafide emo legend; he’s joined by fellow Get Up Kid Jim Suptic, Adam Philips of the Gadjits and Josh Berwanger of The Anniversary. It’s fair to assume that any one of these would be a draw with a new project but together there is a certain magic that is created.

Opening with title track “Strays”, it’s immediately a benchmark for setting the tone for the album – slightly fuzzy production, chugging guitars and tons of hooks and melody. Vocally you know you’re in safe territory as Matt Pryor’s distinct style kicks in. Obviously there is an comparison to his day job to be made but Radar State is much more straight forward in its approach. It’s certainly not as creative as the Get Up Kids but does have a certain feel of their magnum opus, “Something To Write Home About”, and this opener does feel like the first track off that album (Holiday). With its simple melodies, it’s a pure pop gem. If you are a fan of the emo pioneers, this will instantly put you in a happy place.

It’s clear this isn’t just a Pryor venture as vocals are shared between him, Suptic and Berwanger throughout the album. The Berwanger songs in particular have that real old school Lookout Records vibe, evoking the always brilliant Groovie Ghoulies or Mr T Experience. Take second track “What’s a rebel” for example, with its pure cheeky punk and roll stylings. One other comparison to draw is through the aforementioned Ruth Ruth elements, which really shine – especially the soft whoa-whoas in the background. Likewise “Leather Dye”, “Damn The Man” and “Artifical Love” bring back the rock and roll vibe you had with a lot of these bands 80s/90s bands.

These tracks are all proper ear worms; imagine the simple bluesy songs of Brian Fallon’s Horrible Crows project played by Weezer at their poppiest and you would be in the right ball park. The finest example of this is “Defender”. Sounding like The Queers or the Dickies, it’s amazingly smile-inducing with a chorus full of handclaps, buzzing guitars, excellent backing vocals. It’s destined to be shared widely on social media to introduce fellow pop punkers to the delights of Radar State. Other stand outs include “Good Catholic” which again has subtleties you can link back to the Get Up Kids and “Summer of Sundays” which play to Pryor’s emotional straining vocals.

Closing track “Play For The Game” is wonderful, in an emotional way that doesn’t really appear elsewhere on the album but actually ties things together magically. Its acoustic, subdued music coupled with Suptic’s vocal delivery is beautiful, before exploding with a heavy drum beat in the closing stages and being joined by some more of the excellent backing vocals in an ethereal chant.

It’s hard not to be impressed with the quality on offer and as we navigate a cold winter it’s summer pop vibes like these that bring the sunshine in. As this is a side project, it’s understandable if it doesn’t get the exposure of a Get Up Kids release however that really does a disservice to how impressive this is. Personally I’d recommend anyone to give it a spin, put any preconceptions to one side and ultimately bathe in its brilliance!

Stream and download Strays here: https://radarstate.bandcamp.com/album/strays

Like Radar State here: https://www.facebook.com/radarstate/

This review was written by Richard Mair.

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