Radar Bros.

The Fallen Leaf Pages

(Merge; 2005)

By Scott Reid | 4 May 2005

It's not often I'll love a record this much and still feel skeptical about recommending it to pretty much anyone. Any half-way accurate description of the Radar Bros' new record, The Fallen Leaf Pages, is going to have "violently boring" written all over it, and for good reason: it's stuck in the same mid-tempo lull that Grandaddy's Sumday couldn't sigh itself out of. Some, like myself, actually loved that record's slow descent into a more deliberately produced Grandaddy. Others, like 99% of the people who heard the record, hated relentlessly.

And while it's incredibly easy for someone who loved Sumday to warm up to Leaf Pages' familiar languid pace, it'll cause twice as many to quickly abandon it for something with, you know, variety. Each song blends into the next, and while it all sounds terrific, there's still a nagging sense of underachievement that comes along with hearing thirteen songs that are uncannily similar in nearly every way. It's the kind of record that most will only be able to digest a song or two at a time, mostly because they won't have to deal with the record's nagging faults. Hardly a gleaming endorsement for iPod culture, but, realistically, The Fallen Leaf Pages is all of the following:

A step down from their last full length, 2002's And the Surrounding Mountains. Play them back to back, tell me I'm wrong. The Singing Hatchet is a closer call.
x Hit-and-miss. Even songs waver between great and, well, violently boring: "To Remember" gets off to a promising start but goes absolutely nowhere. "We're Not Sleeping" has its moments, but it just won't stop. It starts off so blandly, too. "Like An Ant Floating In Milk" has some great harmonies near the end, but most aren't likely to get there, and "Sometime, Awhile Ago" is at least twice as long as it needs to be.
x Much better than initial listens will let on. Like any record this monotonous, it's going to take some time for most (not all) of its better tracks to stick out. Though "Papillon," "Dark Road Window," "Faces of the Damned," "Show Yourself" and "Government Land" are all excellent, the first few times around they don't really stand a chance.
x Still frustratingly monotonous from the third track on, no matter how many times you put it on. And the first track is really short, so. . .

Ok, so all of that might sound more than half damning. But the production, it's a beautiful thing, and all told Putnam's still an exceptional songwriter. He's just not much of a consistent one (quality wise, I mean; in terms of style, he's probably the most consistent writer this side of AC/DC), and it makes Leaf Pages a difficult record to love. Unless, like I said, you're one of the few that has the patience for slowcore psych-folk, or if you thought the weightless folk-pop of "Expecting to Fly" was an aesthetic highpoint for Neil Young.

There are exceptions, of course. "Is That Blood" is the record at its most accessible: its verses are richly produced, the chorus is huge and there's even, though you'll have to strain to hear it, a slight rise in tempo."The River Shade's" verses are decent, but when that bass suddenly kicks in and leads straight to the chorus, swamped with layers of scaling harmonies, it's hard to not be overwhelmed. "The Fish" is at least as good, save that "ass has laid its manure" line. Like "Blood" and the excellent "Papillon," it's more assuming and to-the-point than most of Leaf Pages, offering more than the usual lyricless harmonies to keep us interested.

Oh, and then there's closer "Breathing Again," armed with the same kind of huge chorus harmonies that salvage "Dark Road Window." The lead guitar sounds a whole lot like Built to Spill's stunning "Else," and Putnam's self-depreciating lyrics ("Who am I to keep you / From breathing in the air again?") give it the same kind of desperate, wrenching feel. It's exactly the kind of track that makes you realize how much they could be offering instead of subtle variations of the same formula. Like how every time "Government Land" starts reminding me of how great latter-day Tripping Daisy were before Tim found Jesus and went all Jim Jones, I'm devastated they didn't record an entire album like it. And this'll happen at least three more times before record's end. It hardly seems fair.

So, yeah, it has its problems, but despite being monstrously homogenous and boring, The Fallen Leaf Pages is too much of a melodic accomplishment to dismiss because of its pleasant-but indistinguishable inclusions. Needlessly frustrating and esoteric? Absolutely, but I have confidence it'll still find itself a dedicated audience outside of those who will only find worth in "Is That Blood" or "The Fish" --- one willing to take enough time with to let the record forgive its otherwise significant aesthetic limitations.