Were there a band better primed for a place on last weekend’s Reading Festival bill than Radiator Hospital, then I’ve yet to stumble upon ’em. The full-blooded songwriting device of reticent Philadelphia-via-Michigan troubadour Sam Cook-Parrott, Something Wild is a record ‘dedicated to the dreamers. Keep the dream alive’ read his adorably scatty sleeve notes that can, as yet, only be seen by a British audience via whichever pixelated screen you’re currently sat in front of, which is a crying shame for Something Wild is precisely the kind of self-consciously ‘hissy’ masterpiece that screams to be spat from the internal speakers of a slipshod record player at full pelt. I’ve everything crossed ’til it bleeds it’s rewarded an international, fully physical release before the year is out…
But if this is an album recorded in the spring, then it’s one revved up for these now-dimming summer months: woozy absenteeism combines with daydreamy surreality on insouciant estival doozy Big Cloud, during which Cook-Parrott caws of “a million rainclouds in your head, keep fallin’ down on you.” So too the mellow euphoria of Down Again – refreshing as melon innards, and spiced with mandolin twang redolent of Losing My Religion – plays into the carefree feel of June, July and August, with only a gently nagging autumnal twang in its later moments reluctantly bringing the listener back to a greying today. Ghost Story meanwhile, a rampant, impeccably produced rumpus, seems almost speckled with the reckless sweat of the summer, or perhaps rather Cook-Parrott’s spittle as he starkly questions: “Are you listening?/ When it whispers.” We’re listening intently alright, although there’s little restraint demonstrated by his tone – one that’s about as far from a murmur as his vocal register will likely allow.
There are, however, rather more tender recordings here exhibited: the wistful tango of a piquant title track, buoyed by ebullient bass lines and imbued with an again oneiric quality by Sam’s affected trill; Sometimes, that were it an edifice would be a ramshackle shack, or a facial feature a bristle of unkempt beard; or the almost disconcertingly intimate harmonies of Cryin’ Kind, which comfort and creep to equivalent effect. These are ‘the hissy ones’ without doubt – dilapidated pieces of lovelorn excellence that, frequently reminiscent of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, were perhaps just that little bit too raw to sing before sometime producer Kyle Gilbride, or many other acquaintances for that matter.
“Sometimes I cry when I’m lonely/ Sometimes I cry when I’m blue/ Right now, I’m cryin’ ’cause I love you/ I’m cryin’ ’cause you don’t love me too” he croons plainly on Sometimes, his vocal assuming an immediately timeless kind of timbre that wouldn’t sound out of place were it croaked out of a spluttering phonograph from 1933. Think the static-addled sigh of Charley Patton smokily intertwined with that wry nasal dryness of Jeff Mangum, and you might find yourself pointing in the right general direction. Although almost as if an impulsive counteraction to this emotive self-abrading, much of the remainder of Something Wild is, well, more or less just that: from the spry Sebadoh pogo of Do You Remember? to the perfectly climactic Lose Sight Of You – that which acoustically concludes Side A, and is lastly electrically reprised – Cook-Parrott proves himself to be equally adept when ramping things up as he is with the amps turned off.
Though the elegiac theme of young love – primarily lustful, and largely unrequited by the sounds of it – is one which cuts right through regardless. Whether “dreamin’ of the last time that you said that you wanted to dance” during an energetic and highly expressive high point in Our Song, or “watching the news from the movie theater bar and daydreaming of you” on the Lesley Gore-referencing The Great Escape, there’s an adolescent naïveté to much of the lyrical content at play here. “Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself wishing that he’d walk in the room, sweep you off your feet, kiss you on the cheek and tell you he loves you? Don’t we all wish that it were that easy…” It’s a sentiment I assume many an undersexed teen could last weekend have shared in while drifting off beneath Argos canvas, and atop militaristic cannonades of snare evocative of The Smashing Pumpkins (prior to Billy Corgan in turn smashing that particular legacy to smithereens, of course) Radiator Hospital sound exactly the right kind of band to ignite a spark from a damp squib, and with it inject some much-needed vitality into said event.
Indeed, it’s a rarity approaching a negligibility that you happen upon a recording brimming with as much untapped innovation as this, and as vocal duties pass from Sam to Allison on the brusque, Sleater-Kinney-esque Are You Feeling Me? we hear an alternate narrative to that we’ve grown to know and love. “How can you say you’re in love with me/ When you don’t even want to believe?/ How do I know your love is real/ When you won’t even say how you feel?” she inquires quite insistently, the couplet indicative of the mixed messages and incompatible signals sent between most young somethings. I guess it’s merely a case of trial and error and, having tried out a couple EPs previously, Cook-Parrott appears to have ironed out any flaws ludicrously prematurely. Genuinely? I’ve not been as excited by a single long-player since The Body, The Blood, The Machine – a secular revelation even for the sternest of punk-pop agnostics. And The Gospel According to Sam may be more compelling still…
Released: August 5th, 2013 [Salinas Records]