influence of Radiohead is incalculable, and every week I encounter at
least one new release that is deeply indebted to Thom Yorke and
company. So let's get it out of the way up front. Columbus, Ohio duo
The Receiver -- brothers Casey and Jesse Cooper -- have clearly been
influenced by Radiohead. Casey's breathy vocals are a dead ringer for
Yorke's, and the layered keyboards/synths and skittery rhythms bear the
unmistakable imprint of a couple guys who have spent a lot of time
listening to Kid A
A problem? Not really, particularly when that somewhat derivative music is presented this winsomely. The Receiver's 2006 debut Decades
revealed a band in love with heady if sometimes insular chamber rock.
Musical and lyrical motifs reappeared from song to song, and if the
lack of narrative structure suggested that "concept album" was too
strong a term, it was still clear that the brothers Cooper were up to
something a little more thoughtful and substantive than the usual
three-minute mopery. It was an impressive start. The followup, the
recently released Length of Arms,
is better in every way, and reveals not only the expected Radiohead
influences, but a beefed-up synth attack and, God help me, a love of
hoary '70s prog rock that only contemporary bands like Arcade Fire and
The Decemberists can pull off well. Add The Receiver to that rarefied
Like its predecessor, Strength in Numbers
is best appreciated in its entirety. That's not to say that individual
songs don't stand out. They do. First single "Visitor" features the
kind of propulsive dream pop that Blonde Redhead has mastered, and
closer "Amazing Thing" recalls some of the more wistful, melancholy,
late-summer-turning-to-autumn sounds of Surf's Up-era
Beach Boys. If it's not exactly sunny music, it's at least only partly
cloudy. But several short instrumental passages ("Hide," "Shimmer,"
"Dislocation") connect the more substantial songs, and the
ever-shifting melodies suggest a musical zeitgeist that used to result,
back in the day, in album titles such as Tales from Topographic Oceans and song titles such as "The Revealing Science of God -- Dance of the Dawn."
not as dire as it sounds, and there's no need to break out the capes.
Yes, the intro to "Little Monster" reveals the
classical-music-on-steroids approach that bands like Emerson, Lake, and
Palmer and Yes worked, and frequently overworked, to distraction, and
"Dislocation" features a mighty pipe organ solo that would have fit in
perfectly on The Arcade Fire's "Intervention." But there is a distinct,
organic warmth to these tracks, and a focus on song as song, two traits
that could never be pinned on the ancient musical wizards. That warmth
is most evident in Jesse's insistent drumming (listen to him slam on
"Skin and Bone"), and in Casey's introspective, confessional lyrics
and surprisingly soulful, soaring vocals. If Thom Yorke is an Ice
Prince, then Casey Cooper is the ruler of a realm where spring is just
around the corner.
In short, this is a very, very fine album. Call it Kid B if you must. I like to think of it as Hail to the Thieves. They've borrowed the best from the best, and made something entirely their own.