The Radio Dept. – Passive Aggressive: The Singles 2002-2010

Call them the Kings of Inconvenience. Sweden’s Radio Dept. spent the past decade building a formidable catalog of mesmerizing, beat-heavy indie pop that flew below most radar. Apparently receiving its big break on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack in 2006, the band responded by moving further underground, shedding members, cancelling tours and slowing its release schedule to a snail’s pace.

Last year’s well received Clinging to a Scheme was a tentative step out of the shadows, and this new two-disc collection is downright user friendly by comparison. The chronological sequencing of Passive Aggressive highlights a tidy creative arc, overcoming some of the sameness that can set in on the Radio Dept’s otherwise solid proper albums. Over the course of fourteen “A sides,” their early fuzzed out dream pop shifts to pensive grooves (Aggressive Passive, perhaps?)  Primitive human drumming gives way to stutter-step electronic beats. Sustained organ chords gradually share the frame with echo-laden piano notes. The unifying asset is the breathy, somewhat detached vocals of Johan Duncanson, who along with Martin Larsson forms the Radio Dept’s core duo.

The A-sides disc plays like a greatest hits – culled mostly from album tracks, but seeded with some painfully obscure limited releases like a wispy cover of “Bachelor Kisses” that actually one-ups the Go-Betweens’ original. Mid-period brooders “Ewan” and “Pulling Our Weight” suggest an alternate destination for New Order if they had taken a slightly different turn when coping with Ian Curtis’ departure, and the charming, understated “We Made the Team” and “David” reveal a kinship with Yo La Tengo’s “Autumn Sweater” brand of dancefloor fare. Aside from a brief atmospheric interlude, there’s nary a hint of filler.

The disc of B-sides is less action-packed but houses its own share of gems. Like a lot of bands the Radio Dept. apparently began life brimming with excess material but soon turned to using their flipsides as sketchpads for incubating ideas. None of which explains the elegant, fully-baked “What You Sell,” which most synth-pop bands would kill to snatch as a defining single.

Perhaps because the band took its damn time creating its library, there’s no evidence of a decline in quality across a decade of stylistic evolution. Larsson and Duncanson have again taken their show on the road, and hopefully Passive Aggressive is a mere mile marker as they begin the next batch of greatest hits. Approachable is the new aloof.

The Radio Dept.
Passive Aggressive: The Singles 2002-2010