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The Radar Bros.

The Radar Bros. are from Los Angeles, which may come as a bit of a shock when you hear their music. The laid-back pace and country-tinged twang of their songs suggests open fields and lightening bugs, not freeways and cell phones. But they belong to a Los Angeles of a different era, when dreamers and pioneers ruled the land. Their hazy, lo-fi melodies are touched with a sense of possibility and gentle grandness. Subtle washes of keyboard -- sometimes tinkling like a piano, sometimes humming like an organ -- and judiciously placed samples augment the bass, guitar, and drums to form a sound that is both as comfortable as an old bathrobe and as shiny as a new quarter.

With an EP and LP (both eponymous) under their belts already, the mellow, melancholy trio recorded The Singing Hatchet in vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Jim Putnam's garage in 1999. While it may have been recorded in a garage, the album doesn't sound like a traditional "garage" album. Rather, the songs on The Singing Hatchet seem to have soaked up some of the grass from the lawnmower, the sweat from the baseball glove, and the highway dirt from the wheels of the retired convertible. It's a record for both remembering the good old times and planning the new ones. The Singing Hatchet was originally released in 1999 by Chemikal Underground records in England; SeeThru Broadcasting released it in the United States in 2000.

After SeeThru went bust, the Radar Bros. found a new home on Merge Records. They recorded their third album, And the Surrounding Mountains, in Putnam's completely redesigned home studio, infusing their sound with a welcome new lushness. While the Radar Bros. aesthetic is still one of elegant minimalism, the starkness of their previous output has dissipated into sweet, quietly, spacious grace. Putman's lyrics remain as incisively poetic as ever. Sometimes sleepy, sometimes sad, sometimes searching, always generous, And the Surrounding Mountains is the group's finest effort to date.