Politically charged music rarely sounds as exquisite as the Radio Dept.
The Swedish dream-pop group, led by Johan Duncanson and Martin Larsson, brought their ethereal anthems of dystopian dissatisfaction to the Triple Rock on Friday night, conveying the anxious outlook of life in an increasingly right-wing nationalistic society – a fate we’re now coming to grips with here in the U.S.
The Radio Dept. layer their lyrics of dissent and unrest within textured beats, offering plenty of room to get lost within their vibrant sound, and the moral depth and cultural significance of their politics never weighs down their songs
Their well-paced 75-minute set delivered a serene sense of escapism that music can provide in socially fractured times. But the incisive lyrics of songs like “The New Improved Hypocrisy,” “Swedish Guns,” and “Death to Fascism,” alsoexpressed the same simmering frustration currently boiling over into angry communal uprisings throughout the United States – just set to the soothing tones of Swedish electro-pop rather than the socially-conscious hip-hop of Kendrick Lamar or the ladies-first formation of Beyoncé that have served as unifying clarion calls during American protests.
“There’s nothing gracious about our kind,” Duncanson sang on opener “Sloboda Narodu,” which translates to “Freedom to the People” in Serbo-Croatian and served as a Yugoslavian call of resistance during World War II. The song closed with a blunt, defiant verse – “But don’t ask for patience/’Cause we just don’t have the time/Freedom Now” -- but those hooked on the elegant groove swayed along even if the message eluded them.
The quartet didn’t talk much between songs, other than offering thanks to the three-quarters full room and an embarrassed apology when they noticed they skipped “Running Out of Love” after playing “The Worst Taste in Music” out of order in the setlist. But there was no need to apologize, as the group’s first Minneapolis show in six years sounded glorious in the perfectly mixed club.
The set focused on material from 2016’s Running Out Of Love, the band’s first record of new material since 2010’s impeccable Clinging To A Scheme. Many of these new songs allude to the uneasy political climate in Sweden as well as much of Europe, where the racist fringes have an amplified voice and the wealthy continue to distance themselves from the concerns of the poor. But rather than drive home those opinions with between- song diatribes, which would no doubt have fallen on receptive ears, the band let their music voice their fears and frustrations, leaving fans to decipher if they were moved by the Radio Dept.’s message, melodies, or both.
Scheme was represented by a sublime trio of songs, “David,” “Never Follow Suit,” and the blissful “Heaven’s On Fire,” which stands as one of the best pop songs of the current decade. The tender ode to youth culture also rails against the boundless greed of capitalism, but on this night at least the victors in that eternal struggle for supremacy were the kids swept up in the song’s elegant buoyancy
The band rewarded longtime fans during the encore, with two tracks from their 2003 debut, Lesser Matters – “1995” and “Why Won’t You Talk About It?” – bringing the evening to a smooth, stylish conclusion. The Radio Dept. have accomplished a rare feat: They’ve converted the dire headlines of modern life into lyrical poetry while getting people to dance despite the dread weighing us all down at the moment.
Random Notebook Dump: While the Triple Rock is always one of the best sounding rooms in the Twin Cities, the sound for the Radio Dept. was especially dialed in, with their luxurious textures and haunting rhythms ringing out loud and true whether you were in front of the stage, back by the soundboard, or even in the men’s restroom. Kudos to everyone involved with the mix for this show.
Committed to the Cause
We Got Game
Never Follow Suit
The New Improved Hypocrisy
The Worst Taste In Music
Running Out of Love
Heaven’s On Fire
Death to Fascism
Teach Me to Forget
Why Won’t You Talk About It?