Singular sources can sometimes offer almost infinite inspiration to artists and musicians. Neil Young famously buys guitar after guitar for the unique songs hidden in each; British sound artist Matthew Herbert routinely selects unorthodox subjects for his dance floor experiments (his latest, One Pig, needs little elaboration). In Radiation City’s case, mining the mystique of a dying upright piano for all its worth becomes the starting point for Cool Nightmare, the follow up to last year’s acclaimed debut. Over the album’s brief duration, the band wastes no time setting scene after scene and finding a home for every filtered, fiddled-with sound coaxed from the upright’s vertical strings.
Radiation City excels at elegant dialogues between genres, effortlessly weaving Roland 808 cowbells under classic Latin rhythms; layering shoe-gaze coos over spring-reverbed jangle. “Find it of Use,” their first single (with an accompanying music video where they destroy their piano muse—see below), is a year of seasons unto itself, blooming into sunny bachelor-pad boogie, moving into a shivering, decadent, desperate sprawl for its climax, and then transitioning back again. And however much the acrobatic synth bass in “Winter Blind” sounds like it could’ve been lifted from the Menomena songbook, it effectively underpins a baroque doo-wop shuffle and then waltzes right into a big room of minor-key call and response for its powerful bridge.
Lizzy Ellison’s voice maneuvers varied terrain within the album’s short length, and, listening to her navigate and adapt, we can hear her torn between the carefree twee of any number of the superficial, insubstantial female vocalists of late and the bold clarity of earnest 70’s icons such as Joni Mitchell or Stevie Nicks. Guitarist and part-time vocalist Cameron Spies fares a little better, consistently settling into the well-worn tenor of so many of his indie-rock peers.
Cool Nightmare is a tidy statement perfectly tailored for the growing population of attention deficient files-haring junkies of Portland and beyond, sweeping us off our feet and kissing us goodnight before we even finish our lunch break.