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The Radar Brothers

With the roar being generated over the new Wilco album, it's hard to hear the smaller releases that are its contemporary and, in some rare cases, nearly its equal. The Radar Brothers' new record is one such work that is clamoring for cocked ears.

Although the Brothers are far from prolific (three albums and an EP in nearly a decade), each album has been a hallmark of understated pop brilliance. The band's latest, And the Surrounding Mountains, plays off their previously established strengths while expanding their sonic repertoire substantially. The Brothers have been held up to the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Neil Young -- and not at all unfairly. The band has an exquisite sense of pop melody, prog patience, and rootsy attitude. The blending of these somewhat disparate styles was the order of the day on their 1996 eponymous debut and 1999's The Singing Hatchet, but with And the Surrounding Mountains, the Radars have taken a turn toward their pop heart without abandoning their other potent influences.

Guitarist/frontman Jim Putnam makes no bones about his Beatles influence -- they were an early and ongoing obsession. Although they have always had a place on the Radar screen, Putnam has fashioned a particularly gorgeous baroque pop work with Mountains that references the Fabs in a thoroughly unique way; this is the sound one could imagine coming from the Beatles if they had regrouped after their first couple of solo excursions. Throughout Mountains are wisps of McCartney's Ram period, Lennon's otherworldly Imagine, Harrison's early spiritualism, and Ringo's love of country rock and shameless pop, all of it woven in with the Radar Brothers' avowed love of Americana and syrupy slow prog. And the Surrounding Mountains may get lost in the rush to anoint Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the album of the year, but the Radar Brothers have created an album that offers many similar sonic perspectives with more emphasis on song over sound.

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Brian Baker

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