For the past three years, Fernando Viciconte and a veritable who’s who of Portland, Oregon area musicians have been pining away at his latest effort, Leave the Radio On, out on Fluff and Gravy Records a couple, three weeks back (September 18, to be exact). The former Monkey Paw frontman has pulled out every stop on this record, possibly blazing new trails along the way. There’s plenty of fuzz to satisfy your indie rock pangs, enough art-folksiness to please a Drag City convention, and song crafting John Prine couldn’t even pitch a bitch about.
After being named one of the best new artists of 2006 by MagnetMagazine, heralded in review form by Paste, Billboard, and MSNBC for some odd reason, Leave the Radio On lives up to that hub bub and then some — just shy of a decade later. The secret sauce is the inane ability Viciconte has to deliver soul-crushing lyrics of despair and calamity in a soothing, if not angelic, fashion. A voice that makes you feel smarter for listening to it.
Fresh off a major surgical procedure due to a throat condition, it’s a wonder ‘that voice’ is even still slaying notes and sad bastard lyrics. It is, and may be stronger than ever to boot. The quiet cool of Viciconte doesn’t find itself alone on this effort. Quite the opposite, a list of 16 contributing voices and instruments to be exact, inclusive of Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, the sad machine of Paul Brainard, guitar work of Dan Eccles, and help from ‘ssktda’ alumni Mike Coykendall, all produced by Viciconte, Luther Russell, and Coykendall.
From the Beatle-esque arrangement of previously released 7” single “The Dogs,” to the dark, rainy day soundtrack of “El Interior” with its ghoulish pedal steel fills and brass sound-offs at the chorus, it’s "Ring of Fire" meets Big Star’s “Kangaroo.”
Leave the Radio On is as original an album I've heard, since the concept of records themselves. Blazing a cacophony of sound and following no blueprint, this record is a bonafide breath of fresh air in a roots music scene that sees way too many impressionists and not enough artists. Viciconte leaves all the blood in the water, enticing the sharks with their constant need to bite on a new edge or sound. By the time the press is done with this record, there will be more than a few biters, and rightfully so.
Case in point: the way in which the record ends with the three most powerful offerings. The wallow of darkness emitted by “White Trees” and its tale of loneliness, accentuated by jester-ish mandolin fills to counter-sink the disparage. We then move to the beautifully melodic and personal favorite, “In Their Heads” and it’s haunting muddle of muttered background vocals, capped off by pedal steel and mandolin accents that all tell the tale of a hanging tree and the mental escape of a few imperviously lonely young ladies. The album finally caps off with the anthemic title track, which is as much a benediction for the emotional ride you’ve been down as it is a cure all.
All you need to do is “Leave the Radio On”, the rest will take care of itself.
(+words by scott zuppardo+)
*Originally published at No Depression 10/2/15*