Baby Hawk (Part III of III), the final entry in Rademacher‘s three-disc collection of concept albums detailing the exploits of fictional, semi-autobiographical Silverlake band Baby Hawk, came out last week. This project began last July, and Rademacher has saved the best installment for last. My musings after the break.
Rademacher used to be from Fresno, but back then they played in LA all the time. Now they’re from LA, but play a lot of shows in Fresno. They’re like the New England Patriots or Golden State Warriors, belonging more to a region than a town, regardless of where specifically they practice and play. Golden State’s Rademacher is an esoteric band, and my thoughts on this album are necessarily esoteric. With mainstream success ever illusive, everything Rademacher always seems to be inside baseball.
So here’s some inside baseball:
My blog has presented Rademacher shows. I’ve gone drinking with band members past and present, as have most of the musicians I know in the Echo Park / Silverlake scene. Nearly all LA indie geeks regard the relative obscurity of Rademacher’s 2007 release Stunts as a great tragedy. (I insist it’s as good as any Arcade Fire record. Buy it.) There have been lineup changes: most regrettably, talent-wise, the loss of bassist Greer McGettrick… most exciting, the addition of synthmaster Kim Haden. Over its many releases, Rademacher has tried sonic experiments and identity shifts. Frontman Malcolm Sosa is constantly engaged in networking and exploring new ways to make, merchandise, and sell his music.
None of the above seems to matter. And that is what the Baby Hawk trilogy is chiefly about.
Baby Hawk is a rumination on the existence of struggling musicians. It’s stories about band success and failure. It’s songs about songs. All the best songs are love songs, but even the love songs seem like songs about songs. It’s a call to the cosmos that asks “Why? Why do people do this? Should I stay or should I go? Are we not men? Does it matter either way?” It’s tragic, glorious, melancholy, and funny. It’s a deeply personal record for the people who made it and, as a person who very much lived in many of the same spaces as Baby Hawk‘s creators, it feels like a deeply personal record for me.
Rademacher’s discography is not shy on personal or poignant; their best or worst is usually a matter of craftsmanship on the particular release. Kim Haden’s presence on all three albums is welcome, but her contributions on Baby Hawk (Part III of III) are especially noticeable. There’s a lot of Light FM here and it really elevates Sosa’s musical ideas. (Haden is Light FM’s former keyboardist and Baby Hawk is largely produced by Light FM’s singer / songwriter Josiah Massachi.)
Overall, Baby Hawk is well-crafted. Part III is expertly crafted. It sounds gorgeous.
As Haden is a strength in the band, Rademacher now relies less on guitar and bass licks and more on bleeps and bloops. Sosa’s lyrics, to me, are always first. But on Babyhawk Part III, Sosa’s subbed-out his rambling narrator style of singing (typically shy on melody) for more melodious pop-hooks. All the best lines on this record are repeated. I didn’t notice at first, but upon several weeks reflection, I find it to be a staggering shift in songcraft strategy.
My knowledge of synth-poppy indie rock is shallow. I love Grandaddy and with my limited reference points, I would liken Baby Hawk (especially the last two discs) to that band. It’s even better to say Rademacher does Admiral Radley better than Admiral Radley. (If you like indie family trees… Aaron Espinoza recorded Stunts.)
I like and think of Rademacher as an indie rock band. But when you anesthetize the beat, depress the buzz, dull the guitar’s teeth, and expand the gaps with electronic input, you give the listener a chance to really hear what’s being sung. It makes it personal. The aforementioned repetition makes it effective. I’ll probably always think of Rademacher as an indie rock band but this record, despite some quiet EPs, is their least rockist and it is probably their best work.
So there’s some inside baseball for you. I’ve listened to Baby Hawk Part III on bleary dark morning drives to work, late night drives home from work, and sun-shining Saturday afternoons. It’s a terrific score for all those scenarios. This record is good. My first frontrunner for Album of the Year.