Review: Radiation City's 'Animals in the Median'

This highly polished gem glitters with bossa nova whimsy and a dozen sophisticated pocket-orchestra pop songs.

By John Chandler April 18, 2013

After much time spent with the new album by Radiation City, the deservedly reigning champs of Willamette Week’s annual Best New Band poll, I can safely pronounce it to be an abundance of riches and the perfect soundtrack to spring. Released on local label Tender Loving Empire, Animals in the Median is a highly polished gem, glittering with a bossa nova whimsy that provides the pulse for a dozen sophisticated pocket-orchestra pop songs that never venture past the five-minute mark. 

Since first emerging in 2010 as the duo of keyboardist and lead singer Lizzy Ellison and her guitar-playing partner Cameron Spies, Radiation City has expanded to a quintet and garnered gushing reviews from NPR—which named RC one of the “10 Bands You Should’ve Known in 2012”— as well as Time and Nylon magazines. And while last year’s EP Cool Nightmare definitely qualifies as a catchy collection of songs, Animals in the Median’s tracks are stronger and more intricate, and they aim higher. 

Radiation City
Wonder Ballroom
June 28 at 9 pm

Ellison’s heavenly, unfettered voice is the acknowledged star of the show, but bandmates Spies (guitar/vocals), Matt Rafferty (guitar/bass), Patti King (vocals/multi-instrumentalist), and Randy Bemrose (percussion) all distinguish themselves as thoughtful, humble players contributing to a harmonious greater good. It’s a winning formula and a bracing tonic, whether the mood is percolating (“So Long”) or pensive (“Entropia”).

It’s too easy to draw comparisons to Stereolab and Astrud Gilberto at her most ethereal (check Ellison’s languid vocal on album closer “Call Me”), or to invoke a Brian Wilson who never stopped following the sun. But they do offer a point of reference. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid the word “dreamy” when describing the effervescent charms of Radiation City, since wondrous songs such as “Wary Eyes,” “LA Beach,” and “Lark” are never resolved in any semblance of orderly pop-song fashion. Instead, they gently cajole us to relax and bask in a gloriously sunny, indefinite present (e.g., “Don’t stop now / you won’t always be around”). 

This wash of noise is calling me to you. It’s everything, you’ll see. —“Wash of Noise”

Ellison’s voice is a graceful, soaring bird that energizes Radiation City’s spread-your-wings-and-fly/don’t-worry-be-happy lyrical tilt—songs emerge, drift by like sweet, suggestive clouds, and fade. Thankfully, the restorative effects do not. 

Head to Portland Monthly's Culturephile blog for our premiere of the music video for "Foreign Bodies."

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