Jeremy Radway grew up staring at the framed poster of John Coltrane that his sax- player father hung in the family living room. Years later, though Radway’s music as Player Piano draws frequent references to the pop sophistication of David Bowie, John Lennon, Beck and Rufus Wainwright, the pulsing spirit underlying the tracks goes straight back to growing up in a jazz house. Put simply, Player Piano has groove.
And it’s exactly this mix of in-the-pocket rhythm, melodic hooks and dazzling arrangements that makes debut album Radio Love irresistible. Combining the propulsive grooves of Funkadelic with the exuberant pop experimentalism of Bowie and Sly and the Family Stone, the album is a tour de force.
Baby Gets Down lets rip with a drums, bass and horns rumble that could hold its own on Tom Waits’ Brawlers record. My Name Will Be Myth achieves an Arcade Fire-level of epic melancholia, before Kings And Queens slides into a sleaze-funk that Prince would be proud to slink around the stage to. There’s even a nod to Radway’s roots in the Mingus-inspired Beneath the Underdog, which takes the listener on an almost impossibly seamless musical ride from Ray Davies-style pop hooks to whacked-out jazz sax solos…and actually manages to pull it off.
Fusing all these disparate influences into something so much greater than the sum of its parts is an achievement only made possible by Radway’s long and peripatetic journey to get to this point.
Born in Atlanta, Jeremy was brought up in Indianapolis. The aforementioned sax-player father instilled in the young Jeremy the ethos of the hard-working, gigging musician trying to turn a buck from his instrument. With this in mind, Jeremy practiced like a demon, and managed to get accepted at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston.
He spent a year there, then moved back to Indiana —this time, Bloomington – home to labels like Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar, and one of the great hidden gems of the American music scene. He immersed himself in the music scene there, played in a series of bands: funk, psychedelic, alt noise – you name it he played it, and also enrolled in the IU School of Recording Arts, where he found his other love: the studio. An unanticipated series of events saw him boarding a plane to London, where has been for several years.
In the UK Jeremy fell in with the madcap Scottish folk collective centered around Fence Records, putting out a critically lauded EP on the label, and touring with Mercury Award-nominee King Creosote. Then Fence imploded, and Jeremy was left on his own to produce his album. And at long last, here it is.
Radio Love carries traces of every stage of Radway’s musical and personal journey. Indianapolis, Indiana was also home to the writer Kurt Vonnegut, after whose first novel Player Piano is named. And something of Vonnegut’s political vision and indomitable humanism seeps into Player Piano’s whole approach. You can hear it in the world weary, yet emphatic vocals that move effortlessly from Stephen Malkmus understatement to impassioned howl; you can feel it in lyrics like, “the early morning ghostly streets, In our heads were projection screens, and in our mouths were broken beats”. Player Piano has come a long way to make this record. When he sings, he means it. You can hear it in every note.
Radio Love will be released by The state51 Conspiracy on 1st July.
The artwork for the record was created by London-based illustrator, comic artist and writer Christian Ward.
Read more about the album, including performer and production credits, on the KnowMusic page.