With Radiant Dawn, Operators deliver a stellar, hopeful album for hopeless times.
In the face of darkness and great uncertainty, what are the options for those of us who believe in a better future, or at least the possibility of one? These days, it seems like we mortals have two choices: ignore the darkness and pretend it isn’t there or do our best to understand it and, if we are lucky, laugh at it. But being passively engaged has never saved anyone, never moved a generation or population to take the future into their own hands. It’s why most of the time, I can feel the hand of doom resting knowingly on my shoulder. The sick part is that sometimes it feels good, like closing a long book for the last time. Thanks for the memories, but what a relief it’s all over.
There are moments though when the spell is broken and the rush and energy of hope and revolution sweep through my body. These moments are often fleeting, but they stop me from just laying down and dying. They can be spurred by beauty, community or the right lighting. By love, sensibility, humour, and goodness. Sound is most reliable, though. In my view, there is no greater display of human power than harnessing harmony and using it to try and reveal something good about the world or ourselves. It’s why I am so drawn to Radiant Dawn by Operators.
Written and recorded as a close collaboration between Devojka and Dan Boeckner, Radiant Dawn marks a slight shift in sound from the tremendous electronic post-punk of Blue Wave (one of our favourite fifty albums of 2017). The follow-up features a beautiful palette of synths, giving it a Kraftwerkian coldness, sounding futuristic and perfectly vintage all at once. The twist is that at their core, these are working-class, uplifting, would-be rock anthems, sung by one of the most emotive, and frankly, human sounding rock singers of our time. Grounded by Sam Brown’s machine-like drumming, often on a standard acoustic kit, the mix between primitive vocals and drums and futuristic synths is one of many instances of contradiction and duality on Radiant Dawn.
Each song is born from various aspects of modern, North American anxieties: creeping fascism, climate change, denialism, the false promise and predatory nature of capitalism, and the rotten fruit it has borne. Unlike another recently released indie rock record that covers the same sort of societal breakdowns as Boeckner explores here — the comparatively highfalutin and rootsy, but equally excellent Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend — Radiant Dawn is direct but just as smart. Most songs are sung from the perspective of someone who recognizes society’s ills, wishes to see them changed or overcome but is frozen by the malaise modern media and human interaction causes within us. Despite that remove, the album is full of direct references to feelings, relatable and prescient, as if Boeckner is fighting to remain human, even if that means feeling like shit all at the time. At least he can still feel.
If I am making Radiant Dawn sound like a bummer, I must interrupt myself to say this album is not a bummer. There’s that duality again. It is without a doubt one of the most fun, danceable, exhilarating and simply pleasurable listens of the year. Every song begs to be screamed along to. No chorus is wasted, no synth solo underwhelming. From the blooming opener “Days”, through the Springsteenesque croon of song-of-the-year contender “I Feel Emotion”, into the relentless and thrilling Motorik of “Faithless”, there is barely a moment to catch your breath. The album is broken up by short musical interludes, which serve as allotted time for breathing. “In Moderan” sounds like what fawning music critics describe David Bowie’s Low sounding like. “Terminal Beach” is an anthem for the apocalypse and might feature the second notable “On The Beach” reference that has washed up on a politically charged, Canadian indie rock album this year. “Despair” sounds like the commotion, excitement, and violence that imminent apocalypse would bring. In the world of Radiant Dawn, feeling hopeless and paralyzed sounds uplifting and inspiring.
Like Born in the U.S.A., Lifes Rich Pageant and Dear Science before it, Radiant Dawn strikes a near perfect balance between the harsh reality of now and the possibility of something – anything – better in the future. It is a worthy addition to this pantheon of hopeful albums for hopeless times. What ties Radiant Dawn to these records is how the anxiety and pointedness of the lyrics meet the uplifting drive and spirit of the music. These are songs about the inevitable failure of mankind that set you at ease because at least everyone underneath the boot can sing along together. Radiant Dawn inspires belief within me that maybe we can resist becoming machines while at the same time successfully fighting against the worst aspects of modern human civilization. We will just have to take it day, by day, by day, by day.