Cool Nightmare EP
Available April 10, 2012 on Tender Loving Empire
Think about the cold sweat and sinister feeling you have upon waking from a bad dream you can barely recall. It is not the dream itself that terrifies, but the unsettling aura that lingers by the bed. Cool Nightmare, the follow-up EP to the debut album of Portland-based quintet Radiation City, captures the oddities and eeriness of this nighttime gloom with infectious pop hooks and impressive production.
Lizzy Ellison and Cameron Spies, the group’s founders, softly harmonize over light acoustic guitar strums on the opening track, “I Would Hide.” The vulnerable combination could not be more apt, as the two sing, “I would die/ I would hide from the night,” as if resisting sleep is worth not risking an encounter with the demons lurking in the basement of one’s mind. Despite their attempt to avoid the uncertainty that sleep may bring, the band drops into a strange dreamland on the second track, “Hide From The Night.” Drummer Randy Bemrose and bassist Matt Rafferty lay down a smooth bossa nova-esque groove, upon which sparse guitar, twinkling piano and a creeping synth form a landscape of mysterious adventure. Here, the band succeeds in piecing together a quilt of distinct and pleasant pop sections.
“Find It Of Use,” the third track and first single, stands out among the rest, as it seems to capture the essence of Cool Nightmare. Swirling harp plucks and a low-toned guitar doused in reverb give a sense of freewheeling flight over potentially dark grounds. Ellison wastes little time confirming dread when she sings, “Find it of use/ a fine little noose.” The band then dives into a slowed section reminiscent of a subdued and much less soaring “The Great Gig In The Sky.” “Find It Of Use” continues with sensual grooves and vocal hooks that demand multiple listens.
The muse for the sounds on Cool Nightmare, a decrepit and sorry piano, had been collecting dust in Bemrose’s basement for ages. When it came time to record the EP, the band lifted the piano out of retirement for one last hurrah - not only recording the keys, but the knocking and rattling of its entire anatomy. The conclusion of recording left the group with only one logical thing to do: sacrifice the piano to the gods of pop with hammers and baseball bats. Footage of the glorious destruction can be found in the video for “Find It Of Use.” Salvaged piano keys were sold with USB flash drives of the EP on their recent tour.
Radiation City have crafted a fine pop EP, impressive for such a young group. While their instrumentation is commonly found in today’s indie-pop scene, the band manages to make it all their own through recurring, yet interesting chord progressions. Cool Nightmare, however, finishes all too soon. As the bells chime on the closing track, “Hacienda,” you’ll wish the night could hold off the morning just a little bit longer.
Ben Sauder is an Online Editorial Assistant at Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. Find him on Google+.