After a handful of EPs and a pair of solid full lengths, Oklahoma’s Red City Radio is finally confident enough to brand their next LP with the self-titled stamp. But following in the wake of their stellar 2013 album, Titles, means that the band has some pretty big shoes to fill. Containing some of the catchiest rough-cut pop-punk you’ll hear out of Gainesville’s The Fest on any given year, that lightening in the bottle ended up being crowned one of my favourite records of the year. Big shoes indeed.
This time around, Red City Radio plays it pretty safe, delivering more choice cuts of the gravelly pop-punk fans have come to expect. Just don’t expect to be wowed the same way that Titles left an initial impression. While the choruses are tight and bound with catchy hooks born from heavy riffs, the guitars and tempos generally feel slightly more passive. On the one hand, the band is certainly more confident to just strike up a catchy tune; but on the other, such comfort comes at the cost of some of the spontaneity that made Titles so aggressively engaging.
But first the good stuff. When Red City Radio picks up momentum, they can really get under your skin and into your head. The mid-album duo, “Electricity” and “Let Me In”offer up a couple of the most addictive, sing-along choruses in any contemporary “orgcore” act. “It wasn’t bothering you, it wasn’t bothering me, but when we kissed it felt like more than just something to do,” grumbles Garrett Dale in the former’s sloppy, band-backed chorus call. The combination of dense, energetic riffs against Dale’s coarse baritone begs strong comparisons to fan favourites Make Do And Mend and Nothington. Meanwhile, “Let Me In” moves with a certain swagger (extending into one of the album’s killer guitar solos) built upon nostalgic imagery of “when everything was new, when we were all still bored.” Other standouts like “I Should Have Known” swell during likeminded riff roarin’ choruses and vocal layers that showcase Red City Radio at their best.
With such peaks making grand statements fit for a self titled effort, its a shame that the band also seems content to play so safe in the predictably midtempo range. For instance, “Rest Easy,” “Stranger” and “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Rad” boast aggressive riffs and killer vocal ramblings but do little to distinguish each from one another. Consequently, the the album suffers from bouts of slightly generic passages that tend to blur together – lacking the surge of adrenaline characteristic of Red City Radio’s (and Titles) best moments. It’s like the difference between high end IKEA furniture and a hand made, custom order – there’s just less overall character and a higher degree of structural repetition.
Just listening to Dale wailing his heart out is one of punk’s simplest pleasures. It’s just a shame that Red City Radio’s self titled full length lacks some of the ongoing spontaneity of past career highlights. The album is good – great even at times – but will likely end up becoming that under rated offering that lives in its predecessor’s shadow. That being said, Red City Radio still offers a fine dose of tight, worthwhile gritty pop-punk, and the band’s chemistry continues to uphold their reputation as a praiseworthy genre highlight.