It is often difficult to find bands that conjure up musical landscapes that sound and feel like nothing around them. TV on the Radio is one of these precious commodities. Their sound, a kaleidoscope of white-noise guitar feedback, layered through dense samples and loops, is held together by funk rhythms only to get ripped apart by gorgeous vocal melodies.
TV on the Radio’s heartbeat lies in its two founding members, vocalist Tunde Adebimpe and multi-instrumentalist/producer David Sitek; whereas, Sitek weaves the sonic blue prints and Adebimpe accentuates them with his amazing vocal deliveries, the rest of the band, solidified by guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone, bassist Gerard Smith and drummer Jaleel Bunton adds sonic muscle.
TVOTR have released two EPs, which garnered them critical acclaim and the title of Brooklyn’s best band by the New York Times; additionally, their first album, 2004’s fantastic Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes captured the 2004 Shortlist Prize. The Shortlist Prize founded in was 2001 “to honor the most creative and adventurous albums of the year across all genres of music.” On September 12, the band released their second album, and first on Interscope Records, entitled “Return to Cookie Mountain”.
There is good reason why critics have latched onto this band. It is creating some of the most exciting and worthwhile music around. Everything about Return to Cookie Mountain shines brighter and stronger than their earlier works, the album is densely populated by rich and powerful vocals, noisy percussion that rattles all over a canvas of elephant sized bass riffs and jagged guitar lines that radiate in equal parts fuzz and devastation.
The album’s beautiful and dense soundscapes offer a stark contrast to the lyrical content which draws heavily from themes of apocalyptic events, the end of the world, and the current state of the United States. Following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they posted the single “Dry Drunk Emperor,” on their website, an anti-Bush statement. It would have been an added bonus to see that track resurface on this album.
From the track “From Blues from Down Here” lines like “Lessen your desire/hold your breathe so patiently/never inquire how to be free/just stay on your knees,” provoke a powerless struggle in which it seems easier to be complacent than to stand up and fight.
In the fantastic opener, “I Was a Lover,” Malone and Adebimpe’s vocal deliveries pour over each other, at times submerging the lyrics in the background which is both a shame and blessing because the listener might miss clever lines like “I once joined a priest class/plastic/inert/In a slow dance with commerce/like a lens up a skirt. “And we liked to party/And we kept it live/And we had a three-volume tome of contemporary slang to keep a handle on all this jive.” On the other hand, the way in which each vocalist commands their voice, it’s almost like their adding another instrument to the song, like the slow piano driven “Province,” including guest vocals from David Bowie.
The closest track the album offers as a straight ahead rock track is the anthem “Wolf Like Me.” The song shows what happens when the band is firing on all cylinders- propulsive rhythms, swirling guitars, baritone sax, and dynamic vocal melodies all coated with a thick layer of distortion.
There are a lot of bands out there, few are willing to take a plunge at music this intricate and epic. In a recent Rolling Stone article, Malone said, “It’s not often I hear bands from the same planet as us.” Each time I listen to their music I get the same feeling.