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Transmissionary Six

In a certain way, the core duo of country-rock group the Transmissionary Six are the Northwest's Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Unlike Hazlewood, guitarist Paul Austin doesn't sing, but there's an emotional interplay between the atmospheres he constructs and Terri Moeller's husky voice and American gothic storytelling that's similar to the more famous duo's longtime musical partnership. Moeller plays drums in the Walkabouts, and Austin is known for his work with the Willard Grant Conspiracy, but the two have made their own music since the late '90s. Radar, their fourth album, is a brooding, expansive long-player with 13 songs, most under or just at four minutes. It was recorded by wonder boy du jour Tucker Martine, whose expert mixing lets every element shine through. And there are many—Radar's credits include eight additional musicians wielding such instruments as the Wurlitzer, marxophone (a fretless zither), organ, "shaky things," and "textures." The Rhodes piano makes an appearance, imparting select tracks with the spooky sensuality Portishead once broadcast on mainstream radio. Likening the Transmissionary Six's sensibilities to the quality alt-rock of the '90s isn't unfair; one Allmusic reviewer accurately opined that 2003's Spooked had a surreal, spare quality that fans of both Slowdive and Will Oldham would prize.

Evocative alt-country, with its pedal steel and open-ended licks, always brings traveling to mind, but Radar conjures the limitlessness of outer space as much as the dusty terrestrial highway. Pondering a shuttle's descent on TV ("Pod Bay Doors") or imagining the apocalypse ("Wires to Rust"), Moeller seems focused on the future and its imminent destruction, and sets those subjects into relief with tales of earthbound fuckups and their regrets ("In Spades," "The Burglar"). On the title track, her deep, androgynous voice bends around vowels to offer potential new meanings. When she sings "I'm not even on your radar/Just don't move that fast," the last word sounds more like a Deep South pronunciation of "fist." While that's surely unintentional, the shifting of aggression is an interesting effect. At times, Moeller's vocals are so evenly mellowed out that the songs bleed into one another, but bursts of up-tempo instrumentation keep Radar from flat-lining. The group has just returned from a month in Europe, where they've got a rabid fan base, so if you've yet to see them live, now's a good time to tune in, turn on, and space out.

Rachel Shimp

 
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