By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Whether or not you'll want to pick up the Radar Bros. self-titled debut depends on how you feel about those first few Pink Floyd albums in your record collection. (Mind you, this isn't as direct a relationship as you think it is.) First, the easy part: If Piper at the Gates of Dawn makes your stomach froth and your forehead blanch in a chilled sweat, then the Radar Bros. will definitely send you on a panicky dash to the toilet. On the other hand, if Piper, or even Dark Side of the Moon, sits in the Seat of the Almighty at the tippy-top of your LP altar (see it there, strapped in Christmas lights, standing above an offering of stubbed-out joints and various doodads you discovered in a kitchen drawer on your last acid trip), and if you still find the conceptual force behind "Time" or "Money" so brilliant -- so powerful -- that it remains, to this day, unrivaled anywhere in the annals of rock, then the Radar Bros. may seem (like all other music, and the people who listen to it) not only derivative, but shallow. On the third hand (oh wow. This is going Hindu, maahn), if madcap Floyd originator Syd Barrett is your loony lyrical cup of pop whimsy (and you're still grousing that Robyn Hitchcock gets so much credit for essentially doing a karaoke act while Barrett was in the bin), then the you might want to damn the Radar Bros. to the copyright infringement circle of hell -- except they're far slower than Syd, more ambient and less preposterous, less daft -- kind of like, well, a silly, singsong Pink Floyd. On the fourth hand (and this is the hand I'd choose to high-five), if you're absolutely tired of Floyd -- if you think them irretrievably dated, conceptually weak, and, at this point, so overplayed you'd rather listen to Engelbert Humperdinck with Grandpa -- but sometimes still find yourself missing that eighth-grade Pink Floyd moment in your best friend's basement (just after huffing weed out of a beer-can bong), as you lie on the carpet beneath refrigerator-size speakers and imagine yourself as some sort of obelisk floating across a vast, empty desert at sunset (awesome design on this album -- craniums off to Julie Blair Carter), as the guitars slide and wobble through the chordal wash, as the drums build in pounding eighth notes, step by stoned step, toward an epiphany where the cymbals shimmer in your fingertips and you hear dolphin noises and pretty falsetto harmonies within the Wurlitzer of God, then the Radar Bros.' debut is probably worth the money. For old times' sake, of course.
Not too long ago -- say, before journalists feigned shock that politicians took money in return for favors -- there were only a handful of archetypes for black women in R&B. Solo artists were either a Whitney or a Mary J., and groups were only a riff on En Vogue. Suddenly that has changed. The hottest male acts in the genre, Maxwell, Tony Rich, D'Angelo, and Kenny Lattimore, display a rugged sense of individuality and a passionate merger of classic and contemporary style. Divas like Erykah Badu and Sandra St. Victor brought the women's point of view to that platform.
Into this climate strolls Adriana Evans -- a smart, 26-year-old San Francisco native whose debut oozes musical savvy and lyrical self-confidence. Her influences are unusual, and her voice is reminiscent of Angela Bofill and Minnie Ripperton, but she owns her inspirations rather than vice versa. Recordings by R&B singers who ignore the rules used to fall through the cracks; now they are all the rage. (There's even a marketing term for the style: "rhythm alternative.") Even so, and despite having the kind of delicate, symmetrical beauty that makes fashion moguls see dollar signs with commas, Evans' route was fraught with complications. After getting "discovered" doing vocals on a Dred Scot rap, she quickly signed to Capitol for a disc, with Scot producing. However, when that label 86'ed its entire black music roster (except for Spearhead), Evans was a free agent. Capitol's loss was PMP/Loud's gain.
Evans' primary strength is her voice, creamy but restrained. She rarely lets loose just to overpower you with gospel vehemence; instead, she's almost rigorously proper. This strategy highlights her phrasing, diction, and sense of time. Her sophisticated musical values (which owe a bit to her mother, jazz vocalist Mary Stallings) are matched by the backing band, whose work recalls Joni Mitchell's jazz-inflected mid-'70s phase and Anita Baker's better recordings. On "Say You Won't," Evans' melodic embellishments recall Aretha's "Day Dreaming." The chorus on "Looking for Your Love" is reminiscent of Earth, Wind and Fire's "That's the Way of the World." The intro of "Heaven" sounds a bit like EW&F's "Feelings." This usage is consistent with Evans' demure approach; she never goes out of her way to call attention to herself or to her style.
It is almost jarring that such an unpretentious, mellifluous recording can generate buzz in an age that tends to reward aggressive idiosyncrasy. Perhaps it's proof that things aren't as bad as many music critics say.