"We knew Astralwerks would be a proper home for that," Roman continues, speaking by phone in early March in anticipation of his band's second visit to Richmond, at the Canal Club March 30. "A lot of people think we made a dance record because we signed to Astralwerks, but we've wanted to do this for a long time." Despite good intentions, the general response was disappointment. "That was the same way people felt about Radiohead when they made 'Kid A,'" Roman says they wanted to hear the same old Radiohead.
Radio 4 emerged a few years ago amid the New York avant-garde that spawned current media darlings like Interpol and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Its sound is highly reminiscent of The Clash, Gang of Four and the music coming out of Joy Division-era Manchester in the late '70s and early '80s. It is a sign of the times that Gang of Four and New Order are two of the many reunion acts performing around the country this year.
Reflecting the band's relocation from the tiny punk label Gern Blandsten to Astralwerks, longtime home of such powerhouse electronica groups as The Chemical Brothers and Air, "Stealing of a Nation" was much more polished than "Gotham!" It fleshed out a garage band's minimalism with more instrumentation and effects. Worse, to some ears at least, the drumming sounded suspiciously canned.
Critics alternately characterized the result as soulless and a disaster, but it is important to point out the difference between a band and its studio recording. There aren't many cases where the distinction is as striking as it is with Radio 4, which has consistently surprised audiences this fall and winter with dazzling live performances alongside such bands as The Libertines, GoGoGo Airheart and Beck, who joined in as a surprise guest at The Echo in Los Angeles.
It might be most appropriate to call "Nation" a noble experiment. Minus the trappings of the studio, its songs sound satisfyingly urgent and rough when performed on stage. Roman tends to agree. "I like the songs on 'Stealing of a Nation,'" he says, "but I like the garage feel of 'Gotham!' I'd like to split the difference." One thing is certain, he says: "Our next record will be much less electronic." SRadio 4 plays the Canal Club with Super System Wednesday, March 30 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10, call 643-2582 or visit www.thecanal club.com.
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