Essential New Music: Radian’s “Distorted Rooms”

Distorted Rooms is the first Radian record in seven years. That may seem like a long time, even allowing for the fact that drummer Martin Brandlmayr, guitarist Martin Siewert and bassist John Norman all have other things going. But just a cursory listen to Distorted Rooms will tell you that the Viennese trio hasn’t just been sitting around. The album’s six tracks combine a complexity and simplicity in ways that don’t just fall together. Each note in an instrument’s progress has been subjected to different treatments or outright substitutions.

Take opening piece “Cold Suns,” for example. Siewert’s guitar is a flickering presence, sometimes pixilated and other times barely there, except for when it briefly flares up into a big blast of noise. Simultaneously, synthetic squiggles and snippets of borrowed voices pop in and out of the spaces between the notes like nervous moles, and the drums sustain a steady groove while endlessly toggling between programmed and played sounds. Despite its depth of event, the music has a streamlined quality; you can bet that Brandlmayr and Siewert (the combo’s studio whizzes) spent many hours digging their way into each digitally singed sound and even more hours covering their tracks on the way out. 

The paradoxical hook is the extent to which this music can feel alive even though it’s a sequence of scrupulously rearranged zeros and ones. Some credit must go to Brandlmayr’s knack for implying progress and more to the robust lurch in Norman’s attack. But the trio has a collective knack for generating tension via perfect sound placement—the opposite of the result that perfection usually yields—that makes even a sequence of dissimilar sounds pulse and flow.

—Bill Meyer