The Radio Dept

Passive Aggressive (Singles 2002 - 2010)

(Labrador; 2011)

By Alan Baban | 12 February 2011

Passive Aggressive is a great title; if there’s one line we can draw across the last decade of the Radio Dept.‘s studio releases, it’s this: Labrador’s premier haze-folk-electro act is putting out some of the most secretly violent music today. And most of it’s really awesome. In fact, pretty much all of this compilation’s music—except the cover of “Bachelor Kisses,” which blows—is shockingly consistent in tone and quality, in large part because Radio Dept. has basically always sounded the same. If some fans have professed disappointment that this compilation’s little more than a cash-in—nothing here, save the recent single “The New Improved Hypocrisy,” is anything we haven’t heard before—then Passive Aggressive is the best kind of “cash-in”: the “cash-in” of a great, underappreciated band who have, release after release, put out some of the last decade’s best pop songs.

Passive Aggressive may be a useful introduction for more casual fans to the band’s many accomplished EPs, all of which are represented here by their lead-off tracks. “Anne Laurie,” with its dB’s melody, and slow, stately evolution, raises the curtain on the band’s sorta bliss-monopoly: all of it barely articulated. Like pretty much all the singles that followed 2003’s Lesser Matters, it nullkriegs the existence of Jens Lekman. “We Made The Team,” for all its bounce and drum-dances, sounds even more remote, as if the group got caught in a grey zone between purging itself of its nostalgia (noise!) and yielding to all the fancy urges that nostalgia calls up (melody!). Pet Grief (2006) is only represented by “The Worst Taste in Music,” whose inclusion maybe highlights the problem of a Radio Dept. compilation. That being: this band puts out brilliantly-paced albums where the interstitial tracks feed into and spike the effects of the more glaring hits.

On Pet Grief, “The Worst Taste in Music” felt like a resurrection and the start of the second suite of the album; it followed from the austere, downbeat instrumental “South Side.” Here, the single follows from “This Past Week”—similarly valedictory, similarly pyrrhic. Having them both next to each other, and then next to more tracks that pull from the same ball park, does them all a vague injustice. It might have been better to spread out the singles across all two discs of the compilation. As is, having the B-sides—many of which stand up to their counterparts—relegated to a second disc throws off the flow of the compilation as a whole.

Where this might have been the perfect opportunity to forge a new narrative out of this band’s many, many peaks, it instead goes for the staid route: it is just the peaks and just the dips, on different discs, separated. The peaks are good, obviously; but they’re just peaks. And the dips are experimental fun but together they sound like curios. Still, the unfortunate sequencing aside, Passive Aggressive is a great compilation—especially so for those uninitiated with the band.