Radar Bros.’ sixth LP The Illustrated Garden features an entirely new rhythm section and a surfeit of songs about birds (as opposed to the eclectic menagerie covered on the band’s 2008 album Auditorium), but otherwise the new album is recognizably the work of singer-songwriter Jim Putnam. Aside from a few uptempo numbers, The Illustrated Garden offers track after track of spacey country-rock that clops along like a cowpoke. The record spins the mood that Radar Bros. fans have come to expect: that feeling of being happily sunbaked and mildly delirious, subsisting on pure sensory intake.
Is it any better than Radar Bros.’ previous five albums? At times, yes. The Illustrated Garden is only 10 songs long, and as such seems more concentrated—especially when Putnam weds his facility for brain-rattling vibration to chirpy songs like “Rainbow” and “Radio,” which move at a canter instead of a mosey. But nothing here represents a radical departure or progression. The heart of The Illustrated Garden (and Radar Bros.) is still in songs like “Chickens,” which stack rhythmic strumming, echoing guitars, gentle la-las and humming organ as though arranging sound any other way were a crime against nature.