Editors' pick

The Radio Dept.


Editorial Review

Album review: "Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010"

If the Radio Dept. is little known in the United States, it's not because the Swedish band has been slacking. Although the group has released only three albums during its 10-year recording career, it has been fruitful with singles and EPs. So fruitful, in fact, that its new retrospective, "Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010," is a double-CD set. Not every song is a keeper, but the level of craft is consistently high.

Now a trio, the Dept. began recording as a quintet, in a frame of mind that justifies the "aggressive" tag. The band's earliest tracks showed an appetite for distortion and sometimes even growled like the Jesus and Mary Chain. But bass and drums were soon replaced by synths and samples as the group developed a gentler style indebted to such '80s indie-pop bands as Prefab Sprout and the Go-Betweens. (A pleasant if somewhat bland cover of the latter's "Bachelor Kisses" is one of the A-sides.)

These days, the musical tension is subtler, as the Dept. layers carillon-like guitar and Johan Duncanson's weary vocals atop stately keyboard figures (or, in the case of "Heavens on Fire," a Steve Reich-derived loop). The result isn't exactly passive, but it is exquisitely controlled.

- Mark Jenkins, Jan. 2011