Enough, already. No more jagged retro dance-punk from New York City, please. After Radio 4's Stealing Of A Nation, which shows how slavish reproduction curdles into artistic bankruptcy, the trend should be torpedoed. It didn't have to go this way. Radio 4 was one of the first of the new New York underground to revive the drone-disco of Public Image Ltd. and Gang Of Four, back in the dreary late '90s when embracing danceability and guitar echo marked a statement in and of itself. Now that defiance has become conformity, the staccato sounds of the past are best used as frames for the present, as The Rapture and The French Kicks have done on recent discs. Stealing Of A Nation, like !!!'s similarly vacant Louden Up Now, offers only flat polyrhythms, generic guitar stings, and non-specific complaints about the state of the modern world.
Worst of all, the record lacks energy. Radio 4's last album, 2002's Gotham!, overcame its repetitive stretches by emphasizing sweat, but Stealing Of A Nation plays it damnably cool. The songs tend to rush straight ahead, with precision instrumentation and dispassionate yelping blending into flavorless mush. Only on a few songsthe thumping "Transmission," the choppy "Shake The Foundation," and especially the fluid, tuneful "Absolute Affirmation"does Radio 4 transcend its exhausted shtick. Mostly, the album tries to prove the prediction of one of its duller tracks, "The Death Of American Radio."
The Portland indie-rockers in Viva Voce have a better handle on how copycatting should be done. Beginning in Nashville as a bass-driven post-punk act influenced by New Order and The Cure, Viva Voce expanded its style after moving cross-country. For the 2003 album Lovers, Lead The Way!, husband-and-wife bandleaders Kevin and Anita Robinson worked up broader indie-rock textures, exploring coo, jangle, garage psychedelia, and shuffling tempos. The group's new The Heat Can Melt Your Brain goes even further, becoming at times a practical encyclopedia of modern rock sounds. "The Center Of The Universe" hews so close to The Flaming Lips' twangy space-rock that it's practically a parody, while "Business Casual" sounds like every Lilys era crammed into one. "They Never Really Wake Up" is a dead ringer for Air, "The Lucky Ones" could be a lost Spinanes track, and more than a few songs possess a distinctly Pavement-like shagginess.
It's not a matter of Viva Voce being better than its contemporaries because its influences are better, so much as that they're more recent, and more affectionately deployed. The Robinsons are interested in carrying on the non-mainstream rock tradition of swapping styles and altering moods. Like Stealing Of A Nation, The Heat Can Melt Your Brain has its own defining song title: "Mixtape = Love."