If you do a bit of research on Vienna’s art-house trio Radian, you’d come across chin-scratching terms like “microtones,” “patches” and “framework,” words that suggest academia more than pop (not to mention solid coverage in Wire magazine). But if you can allow yourself to, say, listen past some of the pretension, Juxtaposition emerges as a truly engaging piece of avant-pop worth the extra listens.
Juxtaposition, Radian’s second Thrill Jockey full-length and third altogether, builds its post-modern etudes through the clever interplay of live instrumentation and micro-recorded sonic “patches.” These patches are created by recording a guitar or a vibraphone normally through a synthesizer and then isolating minute tones from these longer sessions. On the album, those sonic splices are arranged melodically (or not) against the backdrop of a live rhythm section courtesy of Martin Brandlmayr’s jazzy drums and John Norman’s bass. The result is something like the aural equivalent of a pointillist painting — imagine Tortoise run through a paper-shredder.
Thankfully, Juxtaposition doesn’t rely on the complexities of its creation to engage and inspire. Album stand-out “Tester” starts uneasily, teetering on scattered drum fills and electronic debris before building to a teeth-rattling conclusion replete with upper-register guitar drone and ominously pulsing synth tones. Opener “Shift” is just as powerful, with its manic percussion and thick swaths of electronic squeal creating fever-dreams of paranoia and space-station noir — a fitting soundtrack for our unsure times.
It’s only when the tracks steadfastly refuse to settle that Radian’s three members leave themselves open for those accusations of solipsism that seem just around the corner. “Ontario” meanders aimlessly through muddy bursts of noise, desperately in need of Brandlmayr’s organic percussion to anchor the bubbling urban dreamscapes.
Radian’s music is tailor-made for the shifty-eyed, the heavily-caffeinated, and the well-read — a demographic Thrill Jockey records has turned into a lucrative asset. The group’s latest record, though, doesn’t make its intellectual weight a liability. The grooves come hard more often than not, and there’s enough delicious gloom to make the listening experience feel as tangible as taking in a good thriller. With Juxtaposition, Radian has created a mis-en-scene all their own.