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Radiator Hospital - Sings Music for Daydreaming Music Album Reviews

Sam Cook-Parrott returns to his beginnings as a solo artist, an experiment that yields playful piano compositions and introspective lyricism.

From his bedroom in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sam Cook-Parrott has grown Radiator Hospital into a fully fledged four-piece, a project that culminated in 2017’s dense, noisy Play the Songs You Like. Over power chords and raucous drum fills, he sang about one-horse towns, unrequited love, and existential dread; it turns out an energetic backing band can mask even the most despondent lyricism. On Sings Music for Daydreaming, Cook-Parrott returns to his beginnings as a solo artist, an experiment that yields playful piano compositions and introspective lyricism. While he’s eschewed harsher sounds in favor of a folksier aesthetic, Sings Music for Daydreaming finds him no more optimistic.


A dependable hallmark of recent Radiator Hospital albums was guitar—played fast and wired through fuzz pedals, it set a textured, vibrational backdrop for the band’s lilting vocalists. By contrast, Sings Music for Daydreaming opens with a few deceptively chipper piano chords, dulled by Cook-Parrott’s sleepy singing. He eventually adds a sparse, fingerpicked guitar and layered vocals, which circle into a round as he sings an inversion on Jim Morrison: “You don’t light my fire.” The song ends even quieter than it began, his voice trailing off until it blends into the next track. Percussion, as a general rule, is either muted or out of the picture.

Writing slow songs is no crime for a bedroom pop act. But with 14 tracks that easily bleed together, the record seems to creep; though it’s only 35 minutes, it can feel twice as long. “Alright Again” moves at a glacial pace, as if the ennui of Cook-Parrott’s lyrics had spread to his fingertips. “Personal Truth” and “Dark Sound” feel like riffs on the same tune, with the respective additions of a reverb pedal and bluesy piano, but even these flourishes can’t prevent them from fading into the background. As a result, the bright spots feel hidden behind a hazy facade. At their brightest, as on “Weird Little Idea” and “For Daydreamers Only,” they showcase Radiator Hospital as a jangly folk band, one that pairs hand-clap rhythms and tambourine shakes with warm major chords plucked out on piano and guitar.

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With production from Philadelphia stalwart Jeff Zeigler, who also worked on Play the Songs You Like, the instrumentation feels polished and robust. “I Never Dreamed,” buried 12 songs in, injects a welcome bolt of energy, with jumpy rhythms and a creaky, off-kilter vocal harmony. It is a notable exception to the rule, and it’s followed by “Hot Mess,” where drowsy vocals are mixed so low in the background, it’s as if Cook-Parrott is singing from two rooms over.

Cook-Parrott’s lyricism is at its sharpest when it aims for specifics. Most songs on the record miss that mark, landing instead on general memories of young love: “I wanna hold your hand again,” or “I never dreamed I’d get caught in the tangled web you spin.” “Corner Booth,” a dramatic confessional set at a diner, sketches a clearer picture. “It’s the deepest, darkest thing inside me. I could never spit it out,” he mumbles, outlining a tragic narrative that sneaks up on you after the song ends: “Then I say a thing I can’t take back, and open up my eyes to see you react.” There is a world of small stories inside Radiator Hospital, but you might drift off before you catch a glimpse.


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