When a band goes five years between records, change is inevitable. For the Radar Bros. that change manifested itself mostly in the lineup. Their latest album, The Illustrated Garden, features founder Jim Putnam along with a new rhythm section of Be Hussey (bass) and Steve Treichel (drums). What hasn't changed is the tried and true sound of the band.
From the opening notes to the final fade out, this is unmistakably a Radar Bros. record. Their medium tempo shuffle remains and the vocals are still relaxed, still occasionally dipping below the rest of the mix.
Despite how familiar it all feels and sounds, this record has been injected with a new energy. There's an intensity to the opening track, "Dear Headlights," that hasn't been heard from the band in a while. The deliberate piano playing and sharp drumming make this a highlight of the album. "Horse Warriors" focuses this newfound energy into a heroic gallop. It makes for a much more interesting listening experience than 2005's The Fallen Leaf Pages.
The Illustrated Garden is one of strongest albums melodically the band has created, if not the strongest. "Quarry" only has one statement of the full melody, but the band gets the most out of it. "For the Birds" descending melody lines are extremely catchy.
The Radar Brothers have made the familiar fresh again with The Illustrated Garden and should certainly stand as one of the better albums in their catalog.
The Illustrated Garden is out March 23 on Merge Records.