Radiation City plays “Babies” in the Green House living room

Another Sunday morning, and we’d just showed up at the Green House in NE Portland. Mimosas were downed. Chicken was fried. Waffles were made. Maple syrup flowed freely.

By the time everyone nestled into a nice brunch-like glow, Radiation City had played through the first take of “Babies.” We needed a few minutes to let the sounds slowly accumulate in our bodies, not unlike the home-cooked meal that had just been gratefully demolished. Truth is, the only thing more pleasant than Radiation City’s hospitality is their carefully-woven patchwork of styles.

Lizzy Ellison (vocals/Wurlitzer) and Cameron Spies (guitar) started the group upon discovery of a mutual love for ’50s melodies and Brazilian jazz. With a solid foundation in these standards, Radiation City revise the codes of pop music to align with their contemporary interpretation of vintage sounds. On “Babies,” Cameron’s guitar murmurs a bossa nova pattern underneath Lizzy’s delicate piano crunch. The whole group sings harmony. Matt Rafferty plucks high-gain staccato bass notes intertwined with crisp electronic percussion, and Randy Bemrose’s drums advance from the initial placid brush flourishes to authoritative pounding as the instrumental cadence reaches a fevered peak.

Although “Babies” (from their new release on the local Apes Tapes label) succeeds musically on a number of levels, it does best within the lyrical context: a personal reflection on the passage of time and close familial ties. Somewhere amidst all the reverb, the nostalgia burrows deep, and when Lizzy asks repeatedly: “do you remember?”, it’s unclear if such a distant memory could ever be retrieved.

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