The cheap Williamsburg loft that Tunde Adebimpe and Dave Sitek rented with day-job paychecks while making their first 4-track recordings is now an expensive condo with a wine shop built into it. TV on the Radio, the band that formed there with help from friends in other nearby noisy bands—the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars—make music that sounds a lot more expensive more than a decade later, but have otherwise moved more toward accessibility than away from it. That’s how music works differently from the market for the real estate where it’s made: while Brooklyn’s been gentrified into the walled-off backdrop for Lena Dunham’s mumblecore Marlo Thomas performance, infinitely more people will have access to TV on the Radio’s fifth album Seeds than the band’s 2004 Touch & Go debut, exactly because more money has been invested into it. Thankfully, for longtime fans and new listeners alike, though the music might sound pricier than ever, the basic architecture hasn’t really changed at all.
Opening song “Quartz” demonstrates that from a production standpoint, the group hasn’t lost its unique ability to conjure a surreal, soulful dread. Everything starts in medias res, as if we’ve been dropped into the middle of a séance in the desert. The handclaps, moaning vocals, and what sounds like a South Asian percussion instrument (it’s actually a loop of Sitek dropping a drumstick onto piano strings) sound like a glossier version of “Satellite” and “Staring at the Sun” from 2003’s Young Liars EP, Sitek and Adebimpe still merging lessons drawn from the European-derived NYC avant-garde and centuries of African-American church music. When Adebimpe’s powerhouse vocal comes in, it’s instantly familiar, both as a reminder of the absolute best that the shrunken state of post-millennial rock can produce and the fact that that voice—that voice—can still turn even the most interpersonal utterances into sentiments of galactic force.
Even though it’s meant to signify moving on from a romantic relationship, when Adebimpe keeps rolling out the phrase “but I should really give it up sometime” it’s hard not to remember that the past several years for TV on the Radio—as they came down from the impossible peak of Return to Cookie Mountain—have been marked by different forms of loss. Most crucially, longtime bassist Gerard Smith passed away from cancer days after Nine Types of Light was released—a huge blow for a tight-knit band. The group also broke from its label Interscope, which pushed Mountain in front of the largest possible audience (this is its first album on legendary ’70s prog-rock haven Harvest). Light also marked the point where TV on the Radio more or less stopped incorporating explicit politics in their lyrics—observational and ironic message tracks like “Caffeinated Consciousness” and “No Future Shock” (“do the ‘no future’”) felt like an extended ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ after the gospel-powered hopefulness of 2008’s “Golden Age”, which for more than a few of us was the unofficial theme song of the sadly brief window of hope and change following Obama’s inauguration.
So while TV on the Radio peaked from 2006 to 2008, the last two albums feel less like an artistic decline and more like a shift in focus and a lowering of stakes. The lead single from Seeds, accompanied by a video of Paul Reubens doing a Speed Racer knockoff, was “Happy Idiot”, another song superficially about getting over a relationship that can easily double as an strategy for negotiating an existence over which one’s lost all control. Like much of Seeds as well as its predecessor, “Idiot” embraces rhythms derived from the electronic end of the dance music spectrum, and does so as easily as they incorporated John Zorn skronk and Prince synth funk in the past. Like their best songs, “Idiot” works because it balances simple catchiness with urgency and anxiety, like their post-punk forebears taught them: the piston-pumping rhythm section is counterposed against Adebimpe’s tenor, which floats in a dazed murmur for the vocals and upshifts to nervous falsetto for the chorus. This is a Sitek production, of course, and underneath the lustrous exterior he layers a subtle, high-pitched synth drone (a cousin to the menacing washes of distorted guitar that distinguished the band’s early music), which gives the song a sense of creeping dread nearly at an unconscious level.
After Cookie Mountain, as with the followups to so many great records on which a restless band seeks to conquer new territory, Sitek started cleaning up the band’s sound, doing away with its trademark siren-like clamor after falling for the pristine production of “Eyes Without a Face” (listen to that song again and then come back to Light and Seeds. You’ll hear them differently). What’s quietly happened since then is that TV on the Radio have shed the Best Band in the World expectations and simply become a really good anthemic rock band. Check the segue from the neon sizzle of the Gary Numan/Depeche Mode burner “Careful You” into the open-hearted jangle boogie of “Could You”, which achieves the ultra-rare feat of writing a ’90s Sugar chorus as good as the ones Bob Mould came up with, or the perfectly-executed Ramones bop that introduces late-album track “Lazerray”. It sounds simple, but shockingly few bands at TV on the Radio’s level are able to do it without sounding corny. So while they’ve long segued from fin-de-siecle Brooklyn to edge-of-the-continent Silver Lake, losing more than they’ve gained along the way, TV on the Radio are still capable of conquering big stages and broad sonic territory with the kind of precision and power for which their increasingly desperate older contemporaries need to rely on expensive stunts.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1EPDtYd