What I'm listening to this week: TV on the Radio

Dear Science - 2008

TV on the Radio is another band which was introduced to me by a friend (the same one who recommended Amadou & Mariam) a couple of years ago.  He gave us copies of both Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes and Return to Cookie Mountain at the same time, and pretty much immediately, I grew a huge admiration for this band.  TV on the Radio are bold, daring, and unique.  They create such a drastically different sound from what most people hear – commanding and distinctive layered vocals, complex arrangements incorporating numerous musical influences, styles, and instruments, thoughtful lyrics, and haunting rhythms and beats – that it can naturally take a while to appreciate.  Even if that’s the case, there’s absolutely no doubting the band’s immense talent, attention to detail, and many times, just sheer brilliance.

Dear Science is actually a good place to start, as it’s their most accessible album by a long shot.  But it’s also just as great as their other albums, and by some standards, arguably better.  The tracks here are more polished and not quite as long as some of their earlier work, and there’s the addition of even a few more influences on this album: namely funk and dance.

The first song, “Halfway Home”, is a sprawling scenic track punctuated by Tunde Adepimbe’s powerful falsetto.  It sounds like the fully-realized grandeur that Bloc Party has been trying to achieve for years now.  The first place where TV on the Radio’s new influences are perfectly noticeable is on the next track, “Crying”.  “Crying” features razor-sharp, scathing lyrics set against jaunty dance-inspired music that, along with Kyp Malone’s clear falsetto chorus, makes it seem hopeful instead of condemning.  “Golden Age” is another; it’s funky and danceable with a plainly optimistic chorus, and also “Family Tree”, which twinkles through a cloudy haze like a Flaming Lips song.

Dear Science also has quieter moments.  “Stork & Owl” and “Love Dog” are both tenderly sung and soulful, accented by understated musical tracks.  Even during its more emotional and restrained tracks, TV on the Radio fills every bit of space with sonic sounds.  There’s basically no silence on this record; no pauses.  Every loop, synth, and nearly imperceptible noise adds to the mood they try to create with each song.

Other tracks worth mentioning are, “Dancing Choose”, a creative endeavor with rapid-fire, spoken word verses, horns, and layered vocals in the chorus (not to mention astonishingly well-written lyrics), plus “Red Dress”, a heavy, musically intricate collaboration with Antibalas that might be the best track on Dear Science.

TV on the Radio are one of the most inventive and innovative bands you’re going find right now and Dear Science was, without question, one of the best albums to come out last year.  For a band that started out so assuredly, TV on the Radio seem certain to make a mark on the musical landscape.

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