Ruth Radelet’s first post-Chromatics EP after a string of singles, The Other Side, released on Oct. 7, shows us a different side of her musical expression that was merely hinted at in various moments during her time with that band. Now it’s here and it’s extraordinary.
The five-cut EP, produced by former Poolside member Filip Nikolic, maintains the mid- to slow-tempo pacing often present on any given Chromatics record in which Radelet was involved during her 15-year-run with the band that ended last year. However, let’s not call this Chromatics redux. The arrangements are a bigger wall of sound and markedly more organic than those in that band — think more acoustic guitars and strings, and fewer obvious synths. On paper, it’s not the type of music you’d expect from former members of those electronic-leaning groups, but Radelet and her friend have succeeded grandly.
The melancholic tendency with which Radelet is associated still remains, however it’s linked to different catalysts. (Notably, these lyrics are hers.) Furthermore, the color and character of the songs in some ways owe more to the rustic West Coast sounds of the 1960s and ’70s (and their ’90s reflections) than to the cinematic glamor of the ’80s she previously embodied.
But that voice — the one that elevated so many Chromatics numbers and featured centrally in Episode 2 of Twin Peaks: The Return during the band’s Roadhouse performance of “Shadow” — is still alive and well, offering a poignant sense of empathetic connectivity.
The EP kicks off with the hypnotic “Stranger,” a treated acoustic-guitar-driven number with layers of ethereal, e-bowed electric guitar atmospherics, mournful strings, and big drums. It’s a number that would fit in well in a neo-Western, particularly on some desert drive as the sun sets. As someone who’s been in a position of driving through the Mojave as the light dies, reaching for the sun to stay up for just a few more minutes in a bid to ward off the pains of wistfulness and upcoming uncertainty, this track certainly resonates with me.
Standout cut “Sometimes” retains some of the melancholy of the previous track, but there is a hopeful nature to the Brian Wilsonesque arrangement that stacks the music with a cornucopia of melody and harmony (and what sounds like some type of field recordings). Beneath the Wilsonian sensibilities is a Mazzy Star-like strut that slowly but certainly moves the major-minor chord alternations along with ease. Atop all of that is Radelet’s triumphant voice. It’s a compelling syncretization of distinct genre sensibilities the complexity of which is ripe for many repeat listens.
Next up is “Crimes,” which, when Radelet released it in April as her debut original single, felt like both an indictment of someone and the type of pronounced sense of resolve that kicks off life’s new chapter. The lyrics are demonstrably dark and full of interrogatives, but the music has a lovely uplifting color that pairs the EP’s overarching musical themes with a yearning guitar solo that glues everything together. No doubt the words, which Radelet delivers effortlessly and meaningfully, and which feature lyrics like ““Is it easy to start over/Is it easy to play the game/Is it easy to forget your name?” will be the subject of many-a-debate on internet forums across the globe.
After that is “Be Careful,” in which Radelet requests of someone to tread lightly with her, because “I’m made of glass/everything I love has turned to ash.” The ensuing words represent a kind of deal-breaker pact — I’ll be by your side, right there with you, but you’ve gotta treat me fairly. It’s a staggeringly reasonable request. The accompanying music, a warbly monosynth atop an R&B beat, showcases a sense of intimacy squeezed from a minimalist arrangement in a way that’s reminiscent of some faces of Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver project. That gives way to a big and memorable chorus that despite it’s many layers of guitars and synths still maintains a sense of economy.
The closer, “Youth,” is primarily Radelet, a piano, what sounds like an aching cello, and a nature-captured field recording. Each well-played handful of piano chords reflects a sense of sacredness in the flaws of humanity that someone like Carole King or Joni Mitchell could easily unfurl. Radelet’s vocals, which sit very much at the vanguard of the mix, have a resonant flow that deftly pokes the pressure points of one’s soul. It’s a strong choice to choose as the final track on the album, because in many ways it deconstructs the spirit of the previous songs and lays them bare — perhaps as a way to process all the various emotions that have arisen in a method that allows her to move on.
I don’t want to over-emphasize The Other Side as a release just drowning in ceaseless melancholy. As its title suggests, it’s inherently an optimistic record. She’s been through some brutally difficult times — the death of someone close to her and the end of her longtime band, all amid a music-industry-crushing pandemic, for example — and is embarking on a new journey in her life. However, no matter how much excitement each new destination presents, there’s still the sense of wistfulness and nostalgia that inevitably lingers during the first few stages of that journey. This is a natural and ultimately helpful part of the adventure. It’s far better to embrace it and let it work than to suppress it and just try to keep doing the same thing over and over again. For that which lingers is ultimately let loose.
Radelet seems to understand this intrinsically and has crafted a work of art that reflects it. It’s a bummer that she had to go through hell for us to get this album, but I’m just glad we’re able to hear what her musical vision sounds like when given the opportunity to take the lead.
The Other Side is out now on streamers, and you can download it on Bandcamp.