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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.

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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