For the Radio Dept., setting has always been vital. Their greatest works – 2006’s Pet Grief and 2010’s Clinging To A Scheme – exist in an eternal haze. Merging the beautiful oblivion of shoegaze with muted electronics, the nostalgic but opaque odes to youth and romance that dot these records show a band that excels in framing moments, rather than coloring them in great detail.
In the six years that have elapsed since Clinging To A Scheme though, so much has changed. Often quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) political, the Swedish group has always served as a sort of beacon of the times. In that regard, Running Out Of Love is appropriately dark; a troubled, nocturnal record that can’t find peace. Turning their backs completely on the fuzzy optimism of their past, the Radio Dept. has churned out an album that’s genuinely heavy, in subject matter, production, and atmosphere.
Eschewing guitars for the most part, Johan Duncanson and Martin Carlberg craft intricately detailed landscapes of synthesizers that thunder one second and soothe the next. Rather than urging you to escape the increasingly troubling world around you, these songs wallow in it. Pet Grief and Clinging To A Scheme were albums that were made for daydreaming to, but Running Out Of Love is an album for the nights when a seemingly endless string of internal conflicts and thoughts queue up to make the rounds in your head as you lie in the dark. And it’s all the better for it.
After the misleadingly bright opener “Sloboda Narodu,” the band dives right into these new, troubled times with the groove-heavy “Swedish Guns.” “And guess what came to town? / The Swedish guns / And guess what burned it down? / The Swedish guns / And every life they took / with Swedish guns / Now everywhere you look / it’s Swedish guns,” Duncanson bleakly intones. To hammer the point home, he pulls an M.I.A. and throws in the sound of assault weapon fire before the chorus.
The album’s titanic centerpiece, the seven-minute “Occupied,” is what it would sound like if “Blue Monday”-era New Order was plucked out of La Hacienda and thrown into today’s worldwide political landscape. Like “Swedish Guns,” the perspective of “Occupied” is far from passive. Taking its aim at what he sees as the greed of the political establishment in his country, Duncanson is unapologetic in his convictions (“Where good people thrive / well, the likes of you they go down, down, down.”) You get the sense that, after six years, the band can’t help but tear open their typically elusive facade to express their long-gestating frustration. Even the album’s typically gorgeous, cinematic instrumental interlude (basically a signature of theirs at this point) is entitled “Thieves of State.”
Fortunately though, before it turns into a collection of frosty, They’ve Got The Guns But We’ve Got The Numbers anthems, Running Out of Love shows its more human side. “This Thing Was Bound to Happen,” the album’s best, funkiest, and most straightforward pop song, contains the lyrical gem “I drink Cuba Cola / it’s my contribution to the political debate.” Seemingly silly at first, it’s actually one of the album’s more powerful moments. More than anything, the line is an admission of total weariness; the depressing realization that there’s only so much you can really do sometimes.
It couldn’t be a bigger reversal for the band that created “Domestic Scene” just six years ago. When you look up that song on YouTube, the first result is a fan-made music video comprised of clips the user took during a road trip through Spain. Most of the shots are heavily filtered glimpses at the long highway, or the massive landscapes of Spain. The description, in part, reads “I thought the song really went well with the whole travel theme, especially since it’s one of my favorite songs to play when I’m in my car looking out the window on long rides from one place to another.”
In that, the video fits the song perfectly. “Domestic Scene” is a microcosm of what the Radio Dept. used to be, a band that specialized in painting in broad, hazy strokes, into which you could squint and see anything. They were never a band for the present, but a band to explore while considering in depth what came before, or what’s lying ahead. With its laser-like eye on politics, violence, and where the two intertwine, Running Out Of Love is little but the present. The way it beautifully captures the often debilitating effects of the present on everyday people is why it is a revelation.