On Beat Radio’s last album, 2016’s Take It Forever, bandleader Brian Sendrowitz offered up a succinct chestnut of self-examination: “I’ll always be that singer / Who sings the words like they mean too much,” Sendrowitz declared on the rousing “Song for Camden Power.” “That’s because the words always mean too much in my mind.”
For Sendrowitz—Beat Radio’s singer, songwriter, and only permanent member—that may well be a statement of purpose. Since starting Beat Radio back in 2005, amidst the halcyon days of NYC music blogs, Sendrowitz has excelled at writing open-hearted indie-rock songs that double as life rafts, carrying him through the tumultuous waters of adulthood, grief, and familial trauma.
You don’t juggle songwriting with raising five kids while recording demos in a laundry room if you don’t believe every word, and on Real Love, Beat Radio’s sixth album (and first since 2006 with founding member Phil Jimenez), it’s clear that Sendrowitz does. Songs ripple with catharsis and hard-fought empathy. Choruses reach out for understanding through the pain and disconnect. Put simply, it is Beat Radio’s best and most honest album yet.
“There was nothing to hold back anymore,” says Sendrowitz. “This whole record just feels like the record I was working towards my whole musical career. I went all in emotionally in a deeper way than I was capable of before.”
With a textured sound that splits the difference between lo-fi indie-pop, folk jangle, and emo vulnerability, Beat Radio grew out of Sendrowitz’s years as a mainstay in the early 2000s New York singer-songwriter scene. After growing up on Long Island playing in emo bands (one of which included a young Daryl Palumbo of future Glassjaw fame), Sendrowitz became obsessed with Bob Dylan and began performing in coffeehouses during college. In 2005, aiming to move beyond his folksinger origins and write anthemic pop songs with a more raggedy edge, he formed Beat Radio with producer/multi-instrumentalist Phil Jimenez (formerly of Wheatus).
The band’s 2006 debut, The Great Big Sea, attracted critical raves and drew comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel and The Weakerthans. Critics raved, and major labels started calling. But Beat Radio’s momentum stalled when the original lineup disbanded in 2008. Over the next decade and change, Sendrowitz sporadically kept the dream alive in his basement studio while raising a family near the south shore of Long Island. New albums appeared intermittently, testaments to his eclectic influences; there was 2013’s Hard Times, Go!, which grew out of the musician’s obsession with Swedish pop star Robyn, and 2016’s Take It Forever, full of lo-fi reflections on an artist’s place in the world.
Real Love (out this fall via Totally Real Records) represents a new beginning. For one thing, it marks a reunion between Sendrowitz and Jimenez more than a decade after the latter’s departure. Sendrowitz describes their collaboration as “a trust exercise”; he would send over skeletal demos and, in the hands of Jimenez and his wife Kathryn Froggatt, they would blossom into ornate indie-rock gems. Real Love is flush with lush sonic flourishes—the rustling banjos on “Lowlands,” the climactic sax on “Radioactive,” the elegiac violins and layered harmonies on the title track—that rank it as Beat Radio’s most fully realized record yet.
At the same time, the record injects a new urgency into Sendrowitz’s songwriting, woven from several years of heartbreak and rigorous self-examination. “I think I had a very shallow narrative of my life. That just started to unravel,” the musician says.
In 2020, when Sendrowitz began writing Real Love, he felt his world tilting off its axis. A dear friend died unexpectedly at 37. Struggles in his marriage had come to a head, forcing him to question his identity as a husband and father. And, as the new decade began, Sendrowitz went through a painful fracturing with family, which resulted in him becoming estranged from his parents—a profoundly difficult decision that proved necessary for his emotional well-being.
With the help of therapy, Sendrowitz underwent a period of reckoning and painful growth. He took stock of his flaws and turned to music. Immersing himself in wide-ranging influences—from the grief-powered catharsis of Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree to the rowdy emotional intensity of Irish folk music (The Pogues) to a playlist he jokingly describes as “baby-boomer midlife crisis music” (Graceland! Tunnel of Love!)—he used songwriting as a means to make sense of the chaos and to heal.
“The songs on this record are way more vulnerable and more connected to my real life,” Sendrowitz says. “I think I’ve learned how to be more emotionally honest as a person.”
On the stirring centerpiece “Family Name,” Sendrowitz confronts intergenerational trauma and what it means to accept a fraught family background (“The mistakes I’ve made and this psychic pain / Is a legacy in the family name”), while the jangly pop of “Protection Spells” finds the singer reflecting on a decision to sever family ties: “Needed to walk away / To save myself / And sleep to dream of better days.” “Solid Ground” is a somber meditation on a marriage strained though unbroken by crisis, while the immensely moving title track is the most honest kind of love song, which is to say, one that reckons with the difficulty of making love last across decades and life changes: “We’ve got a real love / Sometimes it ain’t enough / No matter what it takes / I’m never giving up.”
While that lyric was written for his wife, Liz, a similar sense of dogged determination describes Sendrowitz’s songwriting career. At 44, he knows he’s not a buzzy new band. But the songs have never felt more meaningful; the stakes have never seemed higher. “When I look at bands that feel like they started to coast, it’s because they don’t really have to prove themselves anymore. For me, I was just trying to go all in,” Sendrowitz says.