I don’t have a natural appreciation for albums as an art form. Bands and solo artists typically must make their artistic case to me through a single, which to be fair, is usually how things are done anyway. Many albums are simply convenient vehicles for a loosely strung-together collection of stronger and weaker pieces, so albums without at least a few stand-alone tracks don’t often make a strong case to me for their own purchase.
I therefore would have missed out on Douglas September’s Sundays in Radio had I not stopped at the Upstairs in Sydney’s north end during September’s gig on August 20. After sitting down for a nightcap and taking in his low-key stylings, I regretted not taking in more of his act but made sure to pick up his most recent album at the end of the show.
It’s unclear whether September intended for Sundays in Radio to be a concept album but upon listening, that’s often how it seems. It very much brings to the imagination what you might hear if, stranded in a dystopian broken-down small town, your only possession was an old radio requiring you to flip between frequencies every now and then in search of a decent signal.
September’s lyrics are often singled out for their caustic commentary and wit. This is true, but they would be wholly unremarkable without the atmospheric guitar, strategic samplings, static effects, and the otherworldly rasp of his vocals. Electronic scratches and ominous string flourishes contrast with the occasional snippet of what might be a vintage radio play and, in the case of the last track “Like a Pop Star”, a sample of a child’s sweetly off-pitch singing. It creates the sense that we’re searching for a kinder, simpler time, but that the memories are a little too faded for a proper indulgence in nostalgia.
As with the live performance, there are so single tracks that stand out on this album. It’s the kind of thing that is ideal for background play, to be finished only when it has occurred to you that the album has already looped through at least twice. Overall, Sundays in Radio is an entire aural package for which I wish I had an audiophile’s equipment collection to appreciate it fully.