The best songs by Pittsburgh avant-rock band Radon Chong don’t meander to a close; they kind of prance and trot and stumble along in all their awkward beauty. Guitarist Brian Hecht, a descendant of Derek Bailey and David Grubbs and Thurston Moore in his six-stringed tone and sense of experimentation, leads the way, frequently employing bridge after bridge of dissonant portraiture and crunchy, undistorted verse-work. The band follows in wonderfully off-kilter unison, a kind of mutant combination of post-rock threnodies and Captain Beefheart mutations.
The best song on the band’s new four-song EP, Honey Worlds, however, is the most anti-Radon Chong of the bunch. On “Rashomon,” the third song, frontman Sasha Weisfeld pokes fun at the intelligentsia in his wonderfully adenoidal refrains, noting that Rashomon and Seven Samurai were, just in case you didn’t know, shot in hipster black-and-white. But the thing that makes the song so damn addictive is Bill Oliver’s jaunting bass scales and the weird anti-pop sense of the whole thing. Weisfeld completely sticks the landing by layering a chorus not only with synth-doctored backing vocals but a faux-casual “bump-ba-da” backing line. It’s mysterious in how it comes together and even more mysterious in how it works its way into your cerebellum. “Rashomon,” more than any song on the too-short EP, crafts loops out of knotted guitars and puts its hooks into you care of loads of deceptively obtuse earworms.
It should be said: the new record, which the group self-released on Bandcamp, is shorter and slighter than its brilliant debut, 2017’s I Keep on Talking to You – yes, yes, of course. But the lack of structural grandeur does little to diminish the oddball kind of majesty that lines the innards of the songs, each of which contain illuminating little moments of dissonant joy. When guest Matt Aelmore blares away on trumpet on an improvised section of closer “Sissy,” the entire band frothing behind him, it’s hard not to crack a smile. The same goes for the opener, “Always a Lens,” a by-the-book Radon Chong number (if something could be called as such) that, sinfully, ends at 1:04 before these guys really get cooking.
“Italian Cologne,” the second song, also is worth hailing. Though the glue between its various moving parts is a little thin, and repeated listens will point to incongruous little connections, there’s tremendous heat and movement when the band falls together in lockstep and Weisfeld joins himself on backing vocals to moan the song’s title repeatedly.
Radon Chong is not really a Pittsburgh band, in the sense of sound. (Pittsburgh’s always been a little warmer to punk and metal bands.) To be candid, the band really evades a sense of place altogether, casting an odd sort of atonality on their best work and making even scripted moments seem, somehow, unexpected – and unexpectedly thrilling. Listening to this and I Keep on Talking to You, it’s evident this group has a monster of a record it’s just on the cusp of birthing and recording; you’d better be on your best behavior and hope they cut it soon. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Jan. 5, 2021