Shape-shifter Don van Vliet might be deceased but his spirit – and that of his ever-evolving Magic Band – is alive and well in Pittsburgh. Local band Radon Chong channel the Captain with passionate precision, vibrant originality, and colorful flare on its nine-song debut, the mind bogglingly good I Keep On Talking To You, available now on cassette through Philadelphia’s Single Girl Married Girl.
Sounding like Beefheart had picked up the Slint mantle and adopted a mission of crafting angular post-rock, Radon Chong drops eerie bridges a la Cheer-Accident but ends sounding somehow quirkier, somehow more cerebral. This is calculated music, meant to sound as instinctive as a knotted rope. In short, dissonance has rarely sounded so good.
On “Farm Pays For Me,” the quintet’s multi-guitar, frontal-lobe assault results in bridges that are not so much interwoven as tangled. Bass and treble elements stumble over each other and it’s a minor miracle that the band’s drummer can keep time. While fellow Pittsburghers Night Vapor have toyed with these recipes in a more post-metal/avant-punk vein, Radon Chong takes them past illogical conclusions, crafting music that is both rarely distorted, in the electric guitar sense, and completely distorted, in most other senses of the word. The middle of “Cold Hands,” all barking over guitar verses falling apart, is enthralling stuff. Glassy guitar figures backed by chugging bass and subtle whispers on “Second To One” are downright riveting. The opening of “Grandma Anthropology,” where the band’s front-man waxes poetic over driving refrains, will knock you down.
What to make of their place in the City of Steel? The band is, surprisingly, in good company, as more and more look to forebears like Beefheart or prog icons and offer up compositions that are increasingly nuanced and demand repeated listening. (Aaron Myers-Brooks, I’m looking at you.) But I Keep On Talking To You is also a singular accomplishment – it leaves just about everything else being served up out there looking a little clueless or elementary. This is not music for everyone – on its Bandcamp page, Radon Chong hints at this with its “serious music” tag – but, for the adventurous out there, it won’t leave your tape deck. Essential listening for the year of our Lord 2017.