In bridging his work as a solo artist and inviting a whole gaggle of friends, Spencer Radcliffe’s acute songwriting capabilities are broadened with “Enjoy the Great Outdoors” — a suitably titled 10-track record of indie rock tunes inundated with arcadian placidity. The “Chicago-by-way-of-Ohio” (according to Boston label Run for Cover Records) based singer-songwriter’s latest project renders a host of influences that share his tonal sedation and backwoodsy harmony, at times warranting comparisons to Pavement, fellow Run for Cover artist Alex G and even the legendary Grateful Dead.
Radcliffe’s previous solo efforts — both under his name and as the experimental electronic Blithe Field — were unique in and of themselves for their playful introspection and sheer peculiarity. Questionable samples frequently turned to beautifully memorable chapters of song; wherever his headspace is at any given verse, hook or bridge isn’t always clear, but in the puzzles lie tactile sentiments about love, despair and belonging. “Enjoy the Great Outdoors” is no different — discounting the inclusion of five new members alongside the two he normally toured with — in that sense, but with collaboration comes a wave of sonic nuance.
From the onset of opener “Land & Sea,” the project takes on a pronounced psych-rock approach that is embedded throughout. A longtime guitarist for Radcliffe’s live solo work, Grant Engstrom whirs up a languid arrangement like something out of the Slint playbook — half-asleep, half-awake, the track’s lumbering pace is exemplary of the divergent path the collaborative album embarks on that sets it apart from Radcliffe’s prior work. Adjacent comes “Smoker’s Paradise,” an alt-country cut not too dissimilar from something labelmates Pinegrove would drop in all its twangy guitar licks and cheery harmonica notes befitting of Radcliffe’s blithe aphorisms, “It’s okay, everybody wastes the time some way / Let it waste away.”
Lyrically, the album situates itself somewhere at odds with nature. At peace with the end-times adversity carried out on lead single “Wrong Turn” (“I know my true desire is to be one with the fire”), Radcliffe finds beauty in the indifference of his perpetrator on “Breezy” (“The wind is testing my trust … I know the wind don’t wanna, but I think it’s gonna stop”), a gentle ode to perseverance that’s instrumentally galvanized by flowery emo riffage. It’s hard to say whether he’d belong in the camp of people who would want to watch the world burn — for him, denying the view is just depriving oneself of witnessing life at its most pure.
“Slamming on the Brakes” and “Static Electricity” close the final pages of the book that is “Enjoy the Great Outdoors.” The former is an oddity, a cryptic call-and-response layered over ambient noise and restrained traditional instrumentals that showcases what the freshly coined joint effort is capable of achieving outside of the indie rock sphere. The latter balances the energy with the album’s catchiest tune: A bouncy bassline grooves smoothly shoulder-to-shoulder with shredding guitar work that punctuates the rugged album with an exclamation mark before fading away.
Verdict: Seven members strong, Spencer Radcliffe & Everyone Else still retains the Ohioan’s shrewd lyricism while bolstering the sonic versatility — an incredible display of sonic synergy.
Best Tracks: “Breezy,” “Wrong Turn,” “Static Electricity”