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The resilient Radar Bros. could jangle their way onto pop culture's radar

January 03, 2008|August Brown

RADAR BROS. are that rarest of beasts in the Los Angeles music scene: a working-class indie rock band that has steadily plied its trade for a decade.

The folkified slow-core quartet is widely admired but not especially hyped; its shows (including a January residency at the Echo) are usually bustling but not with industry sharks, and its long catalog of wispy, magic-hour guitar jangle is more likely to soundtrack a Silver Lake Sunday barbecue than tear up the Hype Machine charts.

Jim Putnam, the band's singer and principal songwriter, doesn't mind Radar Bros.' blue-collar status on the Eastside indie totem pole.

"We're kind of more mellow old-guy rock," Putnam said. "I just want to keep making records. If you're Thom Yorke, once you reach that level, you enter a new level of thinking about the next level."

Still, Putnam hopes that the band's forthcoming album "Auditorium" (due Jan. 29 on Merge) will turn a few mellow old-guy heads. His band (with bassist Senon Williams, guitarist Jeff Palmer and drummer Steve Goodfriend) earned bulletproof praise for its chiming, impressionist albums "And the Surrounding Mountains" and "The Fallen Leaf Pages." For "Auditorium," however, the quartet lets a little more jaunt and blackheartedness seep into its sunshine. The stutter-step waltz "On Nautilus" is a particularly creepy lament of isolation and hopelessness. "You're all alone in this iron hull you call home," Putnam mumbles over droning synthesizers and spectral harmonies, suggesting that the fragrant L.A. landscape of past Radar Bros. records isn't all sweetness and light.

"L.A. is beautiful in this screwed-up way, there's this dilapidated side mixed with the fact that anything you put in the ground here will grow," Putnam said. "It's interesting to me, to be in some awful urban setting and see cracks in the sidewalk where weeds are popping up."

For now, Radar Bros. are likewise waiting for their own crack in the pavement of popular taste. Putnam's band is label mates with Arcade Fire and Spoon, yet he admits that he can't afford to tour often and still battles the sense that a better, crazier Radar Bros. record might be just around the bend. Until then, there's time for Putnam to work out his small-scale obsessions with the world around him.

"I'm kind of like a dog, any time a creature is nearby I have to stop and watch it," Putnam said. "I'm always distracted by natural things, like birds flying around. It's meditative to me to walk over and look at a bush. It's escapism."

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August.Brown @latimes.com

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RADAR BROS.

WHERE: The Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., L.A.

WHEN: Every Monday in January

PRICE: Free

INFO: (213) 413-8200

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