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Courtesy of Labrador Records

October 31, 2016

TEST SPIN: The Radio Dept. — Running Out of Love

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Swedish, indie pop-rock group Radio Dept. walks the line between complacent and passionate. Their sound in Running Out of Love, released this October, mixes easy to listen to harmonies with fast paced, energetic beats and shocking lyrics. The three merge to unpack social frustrations. With an eerily calm tone, their lyrics call to mind serious issues and leave them unresolved. Running Out of Love breaks down a protective wall and drags listeners into the chaos Radio Dept. sees in the world — a dystopia.

In a press release accompanying their new album, Radio Dept. explains the delay for their long awaited fourth album. Locked in a legal battle with their record label and publisher, the group became disillusioned, turned away from music and worked odd jobs around Lund. Perhaps, during this disimpassioned time for the musicians, when they stopped touring and settled permanently in their home country, they became increasingly aware of the political and social issues surrounding them. Their new album singles out cultural problems, song by song. According to the three man group, track 2, “Swedish Guns,” addresses the dysfunctional Swedish weapon and arms industry, track 3, “We Got Game,” reacts to the police tradition of protecting Nazis and insulating racists, track 5, “Occupied,” roots itself in the group’s own legal dramas. The list goes on.

Radio Dept.’s opposing tones in music and lyrics complicatedly execute their argument. In “Swedish Guns” the sound moves from fast paced base to an electronically calm harmony. All the while, Johan Duncanson, the band’s lead vocalist, sings in a low register about pervasive gun violence. The track begins with booming undertones, like gunshots, and fades into a bubble bursting sound effect just as Duncanson transitions from repeating “It’s Swedish Guns,” to claiming, “When you want something done, done/Just take my by the hand/We’ll make them understand.” The song takes an optimistic turn, until it spirals back again to the beginning beat. The lyrics offer an admirable solution as easy as taking Duncanson’s hand.

But, when his voice fades away, the gunshots resume with the base and burst Duncanson’s ethereal bubble. The loss of Duncanson’s voice exposes a lack of solidified opposition to gun violence. Perhaps, Radio Dept. feels alone in its views and helpless to incite change. Maybe, the band only feigns helplessness to provoke the audience to act. The lyrics reject taking up arms and encourage joining forces, peacefully — hand in hand. In combination, however, the track’s cyclical nature and Duncanson’s passive voice may awaken a listener’s consciousness to political problems but fail to trigger any movement. Elements combine in “Swedish Guns” to stagnate all ambition. The song arouses a feeling of upset but allows the problem to return. The track heightens a listener’s discontent as it brings a problem into conversation but provides no valid solution. Duncanson sticks out his helping hand only to pull it back with the returning gunfire. By the end of the song, the listener perceives the skeletal memory of resolution but remains trapped in a violent beat.

As “Swedish Guns” dissolves into “We Got Game,” Duncanson returns again to illustrate a dystopian world. “We Got Game” works in the same way as the preceding song: An initial, energetic, passionate beat; Calm, harmonic lyrics that address a serious problem; An opportunity for revolution and a return to hopelessness. Duncanson sings to his listeners, “We never used to blindly disobey/But now, make some noise/Never fade.” And yet, Duncanson’s passionate optimism disappears as he asks, “And now what?/Now what?/ Now what will they do?” He abandons his listeners after exposing the impossibility of living under a racist police force that protects corruption rather than justice. His listeners feel his passion as he ignites their frustration alongside his own, but the song ends in desperation, “Paycuts/Gunshots/Riots.” Duncanson’s lyrics force his audience into chaos, but the singer’s reflective, submissive tone prevent him from entering the turmoil with his listeners. He’s zombie-like and discontent. He’s agitated but unmoving.

Radio Dept. plays no role in Swedish politics; they make music. Of course, their art isn’t a rescue plan for what they believe to be a regressing society. But, their helpless tone disappoints me. Running Out of Love feels to me like a giving up, a submission to higher power, and a return to discontentment. Their album elicits disillusionment in its listeners, not social change. In listening to their album, I better understand Radio Dept.’s concerns for Sweden and I feel saddened not hopeful. Their music moves me, but not toward catharsis, not toward revolution, not toward change. “Running Out of Love” settles its listeners in a dystopia with no way out.

Julia Curley is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jmc628@cornell.edu. 

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