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Transmissionary Six - Radar

  by John Clarkson

published: 13 / 8 / 2006

Transmissionary Six - Radar
Label: Select Label
Format: CD


Impressively diverse and expansive fourth album ,and their first on the Glitterhouse label, from Seattle-based alt. rock group, the Transmissionary Six

The Transmissionary Six established an early blueprint for themselves, creating on their self-titled debut album music that had an engaging, brooding sound, and which involved plenty of surreal sound effects and cheap studio experimentation. Five years on from that debut album all those components are still in place, but one realizes also, comparing their just released fourth album ‘Radar’ to that first record, just how much the band, who have shifted from the small Portland, Oregon label FILM Guerrero and base for their last three albums to the larger German independent of Glitterhouse for this latest outing, has also moved on. The group’s original duo, Seattle-based husband and wife team, guitarist Paul Austin and vocalist Terri Moeller, have been joined once again by mainstays Jon Hyde and Ben Thompson, who also appeared on their second and third albums, 2003’s ‘Spooked’ and 2004’s ‘Get Down’. Hyde plays pedal steel, wurlitzer, electric guitar and organ, while Thompson provides “textures”, the spooky sound effects that have made the Transmissionary Six so compelling in the past. ‘Radar’ also features a rotational line-up of Caban Buswell on bass ; Eric Eagle on drums and “shaky things” ; Paula Hiraga on piano, organ and bass ; Scott Colburn (who also appeared on ‘Get Down’) again on “textures” ; album producer Tucker Martine on tambourine and also on “shaky things” ; Steve Moore on marxophone (a fretless zither-Ed) and Matt Brown on Rhodes piano. This line-up, the band’s largest to date, in contrast to their stark early recordings which featured Austin and Moeller on all instrumentation, give ‘Radar’ a lush, layered sound. Moeller has since 1991 played drums with fellow Seattle group the Walkabouts, and only first began singing seriously in 2000 when Austin encouraged her to do so and put her up for the job. On ‘Transmissionary Six’, which she and Austin dubbed on their website at the time of its release as “a headphones record made by strange shy people for other strange shy people”, she sounded understandably slightly hesitant, but on ‘Radar’ her dreamy vocals are both much more confident and even sultry. The band’s lyrics have also evolved. On the first two records, and some of the third, the group revelled in the mysterious, and they were abstract collages of words which irritated some critics, and gave fans a lot of fun trying to work out what if anything Moeller and Austin meant. There is still an element of that on ‘Radar’, but other songs have a much more structured and linear narrative, so much so that for the first time the band has printed on the booklet that accompanies the CD all the lyrics. They are also more openly socially conscious. The echoing rumble of the opening number, ‘In Spades’, tells of the dismantlement and eviction of a slum community at the hands of big business contractors (“It was make or break/Now we lost our place/The cameras sold this street/Made it past tense”), while the dark, smouldering ‘Wires to Rust’, sharing the same weary, pessimistic anger as the Walkabouts on their last album, last year’s ‘Acetylene’, imagines an apocalyptic world torn apart by the unconcerned ecological policy of greedy governments. (“We sat around the radio just hoping for a sound/Wires to rust and dust to dust we prayed that we’d be found/But all we got are scraps at night/And hands-me-downs by satellite”). It is far, however, from a bleak album, and there is much quirky humour too. The shuffling, percussion-lead epic rock of ‘Pod Bay Doors’ has Moeller realising the ridiculousness of continuing to chase after a disinterested lover (“/Like a shuttle landing on TV /And every time I’m touching/Down down down/Your pod bay doors keep me around/Staring till the first one blinks/Is no better than a dull decline/No death defying ace/Worth her salt would play that game”). The catchy, sing-a-long, infectious pop of the title track meanwhile finds her pouring disparaging scorn on here today, gone tomorrow celebrities (“I’m not even on your radar/ Just don’t move that fast/The curtain call that broke your fall/The pulleys rope and praise”). This is a very fine and diverse record from an increasingly assured outfit.

Track Listing:-
1 In Spades
2 Radar
3 The Burglar
4 Broker
5 Pod Bay Doors
6 Transmission Line
7 Wires To Rust
8 That Wednesday
9 When Rowan And Martin Saved The Day
10 Infrared
11 Take It On The Chin
12 Top Of Your Lungs
13 Bye Bye Blackbird

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Transmissionary Six - Interview with Paul Austin Part 1
In the first part of a two part interview, both parts which we are running consecutively, guitarist Paul Austin talks to John Clarkson about the reformation of his band The Transmissionary Six after a decade-long absence, and their new album, 'Often Sometimes Rarely Never'.
Interview with Paul Austin Part 2 (2023)
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