Radiation CityRadiation City
Sir Richard Bishop
Five years ago when this writer interviewed guitarist Richard Bishop, formerly of the infamous Sun City Girls, he commented on playing solo guitar for all-ages crowds when sharing the bill with Animal Collective and the challenges of capturing the audience’s “MTV two-second-edit attention span.” This is the same fellow who cheekily said during a solo set last year, “When in doubt, play a 30-minute raga,” referring to the free-flowing, improv-based Indian classical music form.
Bishop’s latest solo guitar album, Intermezzo, seems like an attempt to do both, while also demonstrating the immense range of his sonic and geographic interests. Fans of Sun City Girls know that no genre was safe from the band’s clutches, and Intermezzo features a dizzying array of approaches, all tied together with Bishop’s effortlessly agile, mellifluous playing style.
Bishop uses the moniker Sir Richard Bishop for his solo work as a tribute to the explorer and adventurer Sir Richard Burton, and appropriately, Intermezzo is a globe-trotting musical excursion. It goes from continent to continent with some quick trips to the unknown along the way. The bizarre track “Cranial Tap” features frantic abstract guitar scampering, while the multi-tracked “Reversionary Tactics,” with backwards lines and tremolo-treated parts cresting and dipping, forms interesting textures. “Dance of the Cedars” features a distinct North African flavor, with rattling metallic percussion accompanying the fluid melodies, and “Khajuraho” is a jaunt to India, with a condensed five-minute raga.
The album’s longest track, the gorgeous 15-minute “Inner Redoubt,” resembles a raga with its wandering spirit, but isn’t strictly rooted in South Asian genres, using gentle, hammered-string sounds. The most familiar territory is covered on “Hump Tulip,” an easy-to-like, 50’s-style rock/western swing number with a 12-bar blues structure (think “Rock Around the Clock”). It’s impossible to distill Richard Bishop’s mind-boggling range in one album, but the superb Intermezzo is perhaps the best album so far to try.
(Tender Loving Empire)
In the realm of physics, space and time can be united into a single continuum. In the musical realm, one possible equivalent would be the Portland pop band Radiation City, which combines past and present styles as well as a constantly varying aural geography, making a complicated sonic fabric. The group’s new EP, Cool Nightmare, follows its charming 2011 album, The Hands That Take You, with a meticulous recording featuring elements that seem familiar, but are hard to pin down.
As the EP gingerly proceeds from the brief opener, “I Would Hide,” which is reprised in the following number “Hide from the Night,” the group’s hallmarks are laid out, using boy/girl vocals and small, electronic sound details that linger when other instruments dissolve from the mix. Some cheap yet effective vocal treatments are employed, such as drenching some pretty vocals in reverb, found on “Find It of Use.” That number opens with a flock of harp runs and pairs acoustic drums with drum machine beats, with no attempt made to mask their artificiality, and again, the group’s trademark segues are used, with tiny, repeated synthetic tidbits.
“Heart of Mine” serves to confuse matters, with electronic drums and straightened rhythms of vague ethnicity, and the piano in “Eye of Yours” wouldn’t be out of place in a tango, with an island breeziness, some wordless vocals, horns, and slow-tremolo guitar. “Winter Blind” uses a frantic synth pattern and backing soul vocals, but its studied procession doesn’t deliver the climax that would clinch the song.
Cool Nightmare is entirely pleasant and was clearly made with great care. The group is onto something with its own style. That said, it doesn’t quite have the hooks necessary to really grab the listener; a few killer tracks would have properly anchored the release, but as is, the album shows great pop potential.