Deceptively light revolution songs

Winter is coming, opines author George R.R. Martin, in the wake of the results of the United States presidential elections, quoting an iconic line from his Game Of Thrones series.

Indeed, as the coldest season approaches, let us take refuge in some cosy dream-pop care of Swedish band The Radio Dept… only for us to realise that their fourth and latest record is no twinkly-eyed, sun-kissed dream-pop.

Running Out Of Love is a protest record draped with a flag of revolution. It is a response to the chilly wind of conservatism blowing across Sweden and the rest of Europe.

From the outset, the album makes its intention clear. Sonically, everything is deceptively light and bright, from the frisky percussion to the fluvial synths. But listen to the words.

As frontman Johan Duncanson declares in the opening track Sloboda Narodu: "Don't ask for patience/Cause we just don't have the time/Freedom now."



    The Radio Dept

    Labrador Records

    4/5 stars

The song title means "freedom to the people", in Serbo-Croatian, a reference to a populist slogan coined in the 1940s and used in post-war Yugoslavia as a rallying cry.

Remarkably, Duncanson never once raises his volume. Instead of hectoring, he sings in a uniformly blissed-out voice, as if filtered through gauze.

Swedish Guns is a mid-tempo missive with words delivered as calmly as unerring fact. He sings: "And guess what came to town (the Swedish guns)/and guess what burnt it down (the Swedish guns)/And every life they took (with Swedish guns)." He is referring to the little-known fact that Sweden is the third-largest arms exporter per capita after Israel and Russia.

On the surface, We Got Game is a minimalist disco ballad sung with luxurious world-weariness, and you may be forgiven to think that it's a seduction ritual until you parse the lyrics: "You keep talking middle ground/So sick of hearing about that middle ground/This is it, you can't go 'round/There's just no other middle to be found."

It is an eerily prescient indictment of the polarised state of the world, as the singer touches on "racist goons" and "laser beam/swat team/not a dream".

Not everything is so down and out. Take a listen to the sprightly, catchy anthem Committed To The Cause where Duncanson makes a case for optimism.

"We're here to work/Not break free," he sings, over jaunty beats and supple electric riffs, before adding the ominous rejoinder: "We're here to hurt/Endlessly".

By the time we come to the album title track, Running Out Of Love, it is as if he has run out of words already; or rather, words are unnecessary by now.

It is an intriguing doozie with a dust of keyboard effects over gently strummed electric guitars and you are left with plenty of room to wonder what humanity can do to rescue itself from itself.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2016, with the headline 'Deceptively light revolution songs'. Subscribe