Exit the faithless
Creation breeds creation. An artist cannot expect to do something and finish it, without falling into the start of something new. Operator’s frontman Dan Boeckner may very well be the best example of this. If you’ve followed his work since his early days, you’ll know how relentless his place in the industry has been. Besides the popularity of Wolf Parade, Boeckner has fronted various other projects, and they’re all a result of the other. Operator’s second LP, Radiant Dawn, is presumably another culmination of these transitions, the result of an artist’s obsessive renewal, the sound of constant pursuit.
The lyrical precedent is a dystopia. Overwhelming refrains give the idea of a brooding future, decayed by technology. It’s beautiful, and surprising to see Boeckner command his lyrical process in this way, a way we’ve yet to see so prominently. He speaks of darkened seas and feeling lighter than rain, being a witness to dawn, and changing lane for stranger shapes. There are a ton of Insta captions to be found (take them quick before the hipsters get mad), but besides that, there’s real emotional depth to his words too.
The contradiction comes in when we start listening to the music. It’s a sadly hopeful sound, surrounded by ethereal synths and big-crowd festival riffs. In the simplest of terms, it’s happy, and that’s a good thing. The tracks aren’t over-the-top drown-your-sorrow ballads, nor are they driven by any obvious stylistic intention. It’s a perfect balance – hold on to the lyrics, move with the music, or just float above it all. Radiant Dawn has an escape route, a quality that far too many artists overlook when making a concept album of this nature.
“I Feel Emotion” is a real success for the group. It recalls LCD Soundsystem and their toy-keyboard melodies. The hailing synths that come in towards the latter half of the track are really embracing, and make for a rare warmth. From the atmosphere and the air, the sound transitions into “Faithless.” It’s a soaring techno track and while it retains some atmospheric fever, the hard delivery of Boeckner’s vocals cuts the connection and brings us into a fast-paced staccato dance. Once again, the latter portion indulges with electro-melodies and amped runs, coming to an abrupt yet fitting end. “In Modern” does much of the same stylistically, and together, these tracks contribute to the contradiction. They paint a big, colorful, balloon-pop picture, so much so that the dystopia feels like a pretty cool place to visit, and maybe that was the band’s intention right from the start.
“Despair” is a heavier attack, and it works, with a New Order bass line playing out against an extremely faint Nicolas Jaar production (listen closely and you might hear it). It’s another renewal for the group, and will undoubtedly be a headbanger during live sets.
The album’s downfall is its sequencing. “Low Life” shouldn’t have been the album closer, something restrained and simple would have done better. The 30 seconds (interludes) also don’t do much for the record, and if anything, it feels like they’re tiny pieces of litter lying on luscious green grass.
By the end of it all, Radiant Dawn displays all that Operators are capable of, and while it lacks assured versatility and styling, it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully the renewal doesn’t end here, and more importantly, hopefully Dan Boeckner has the confidence to commit whole-heartedly to Operators, and for a long time too. Artistry takes time, and for those who can’t keep faith in it, mediocrity awaits. Exit the faithless.