Radar Bros. with the Nghiems, Matthew and the Arrogant Sea
9 p.m. Monday
113 N. Crawford, Norman
$8 advance, $10 door
$10 advance, $12 door under 21
The pretty, languid melodies drift dreamlike through a summery shimmer, recalling the halcyon days of Pink Floyd's "San Tropez." Picking up that psych-pop mantle, California's Radar Bros. have been fashioning effortlessly winsome, somewhat narcotic paeans for nearly 15 years behind singer/guitarist Jim Putnam. Although their latest, "The Illustrated Garden," boasts a new lineup, the output hasn't changed much.
There's a reason their music is characterized as "slowcore": Putnam's breezy tenor continues to hitch rides on the jet stream, gliding and lilting gracefully over understated arrangements that nonetheless possess the sweet, many-hued sweep of an oceanside sunset.
It's not particularly surprising that he should wind up making music. His father was a noted producer/sound engineer who not only worked with artists as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughn, but pioneered the first recording consoles and many innovations related to modern stereo production. Putnam recalled hanging out with his dad in his studio, an experience that paved the way for his career in music.
"He wasn't much of a musician, but he had this insane stereo in his home office and he'd be blasting these jazz records. So I'd go in there ... and watch everything go down," Putnam said. "I started playing the saxophone, thinking I'd play jazz, but I gave that up and started playing the drums and then guitar. I stuck with guitar because it's easier to write songs with a guitar."
His first big break came through college buddy Eddie Ruscha, who was playing bass in Brad Laner's band, Medicine. Laner started Medicine in the early '90s to follow the distortion-drenched trail blazed by My Bloody Valentine, but needed another guitarist to help fashion the edifices of feedback atop of which he coated the pretty pop melodies (eventually dubbed "shoegaze"), and Ruscha recommended Putnam.
"It was kind of rocky, but it was a great experience, because I'd never played in a real band before," Putnam said. "I'd never toured before, and the very first tour we did was supporting the Smashing Pumpkins in Europe right before they made 'Siamese Dream.' So that was really cool, and I'd never been to Europe, either, so it was kind of ridiculous."
But his tenure with Medicine would only last the first two albums, before he and Ruscha left to start Maids of Gravity, continuing a loud, distorted style, but with a bit more propulsion and crunch.
While Putnam played on the record, he didn't tour with the group. Instead, he hatched his own project.
Radar Bros. released its self-titled debut in 1996, and continued with the same lineup for a dozen years. Their 2008 disc, "Auditorium," was recorded as a quartet, but Putnam soon found himself alone, and was forced to reassemble the band to support the release. He recruited bassist Be Hussey and drummer Stevie Treichel. It was a bit of a trial, but Putnam is happy about the new lineup.
"You throw in two completely new and different people even down to the way our personalities go together, and it affects everything," he said.
To support the current tour, Radar Bros. have added a keyboardist and second guitarist, helping achieve an even broader sound.
"It's definitely pretty big," Putnam said. "It makes it more fun playing with more people, and a little louder."
Although he has a solo project, Mt. Wilson Repeater, under which he released his first album two years ago, Putnam is happy he found the right collaborators to keep Radar Bros. going.
"Putting together the new band with Stevie and Hussey has really been great. It's like a breath of fresh air," he said. "I wasn't sure if I should change the name or keep it. I thought it was probably easier to keep it and try to ride on that. Starting a whole new band with a new name is kind of terrifying." "Chris Parker