From left, Operators are Devojka, Dan Boeckner and Sam Brown. (Courtesy photo)

Operators pair bleak lyrics with urgent, upbeat sounds

Album ‘Radiant Dawn’ influenced Eastern Europe sociopolitics

At the end of “Strange,” a show-stopping song on Operators’ disarming and invigorating second album “Radiant Dawn,” a ghostly voice can be heard faintly above a din of electronic dissonance.

In a recording from a séance taking place in the late 1930s, a female ominously repeats, “So much is unrecognizable.” No statement could better capture the feel of “Radiant Dawn,” a tetchy collection of ebullient late 1970s electric pop sounds paired with gloomy lyrics detailing the malaise of today’s increasingly hopeless existence.

“You cannot satirize things today; what are you going to do, make fun of the potential extinction of human civilization in 30 years?” says Dan Boeckner, chief lyricist for the band, which plays The Independent on Wednesday. “You have to look at things as they are: an absolute cosmic horror in a Lovecraftian way, incomprehensible to the human mind. The only thing you can do is laugh at how grotesque it all is.”

Boeckner’s grim, and unfortunately accurate, worldview could make the album a complete bummer to listen to, if those lyrics weren’t set to an immersive, urgent sonic landscape.

A three-piece band featuring Boeckner on guitar, Sam Brown on drums and Devojka on synthesizers and other gadgets, Operators are steeped in propulsive post-punk electronica, emulating Low-era David Bowie, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and the original “Blade Runner” soundtrack.

Their sounds righteously give a false sense of celebration; listeners feel like they’re dancing in the rain on empty city streets, then realize the precipitation is riddled with toxins and the area has been evacuated due to an environmental disaster.

“Radiant Dawn” was heavily influenced by Devojka and Boeckner’s experiences in Eastern Europe. A native of Macedonia, Devojka was among the last of her generation born in then-Yugoslavia, before the federation was broken apart. The album captures the displacement of identity and the disruptive forces of nationalism.

“In the 50s, 60s and 70s, Yugoslavia was producing incredibly challenging art films, which were even challenging the structure of the government, which is pretty amazing for an Eastern Bloc country,” says Boeckner. “Devojka and I had these thought experiments, like, “What if Yugoslavia never ended, what if it was a dominant power in the 70s?’ That was the world we wanted to construct for ‘Radiant Dawn.’”

As that scenario never played out and Yugoslavia fell victim to divisive forces still on the ascent, Boeckner laments today’s heartless capitalism, nihilistic disregard for the environment and the boundless, faceless scope of the internet, which have left many with few connections — which is why so many embrace a post-objective reality.

Still, Boeckner has some optimisim. The album’s centerpiece song “I Feel Emotion” is about disillusion and isolation, but with a message of connectiveness.

“On that track, we sing, ‘Our days and nights will not be lived for nothing,’” says Boeckner. “That’s true for everyone. Hopefully people can find hope in that.”

IF YOU GO

Operators

Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. June 12

Tickets: $16

Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.theindependentsf.com

Pop Music

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