Artist’s Website: www.tvontheradio.com
Brooklynites pull up pegs, move to LA, and still sound like no one else in soul-infused modern alterna-rock.
The gentlemen from the band TV on the Radio have been keeping busy since the critical and commercial breakthrough of their previous record, 2008’s Dear Science. Kyp Malone worked on a side project called Rain Machine, and Malone and Tunde Adebimpe contributed to Tinariwen’s multi-faceted Tassili record. Most crucially, Dave Sitek relocated to Los Angeles, produced a side project under the moniker Maximum Balloon, and contributed his producing and arranging talents to a wide range of projects (most notably albums by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jane’s Addiction).
The La-La-Land influence seems to feature prominently in the new TV on the Radio record. Dear Science wowed listeners with its densely-packed, tightly-wound funk rhythms, James Brown revue guitar lines, blasts of saxophone, spoken-word vocals and modern disco beats. Three years ago, Sitek set out to compress as much sound into the recordings as possible. This time out, the recordings typically have more sonic space and breathe more freely. Chalk it up to California dreaming instead of a Brooklyn state of mind.
The lead-off track is cheekily titled “Second Song”. Most of the TVOTR sonic calling cards are still present – soulful vocals, falsetto counter-vocals, funky bass, punchy drums and snatches of guitars. Unlike previous releases, the overall effect is widescreen and open; not quite romantic, but more soulful than tense and anxious.
“Keep Your Heart” and “You” continue in a similar mode, with laid-back rhythms and muted loops of programming. Despite its name, “Killer Crane” is a beautiful slow-building song built around piano, keyboards, and acoustic guitar. It’s a definite departure from the songs the band is known for, but gorgeous all the same.
This is not to say that TVOTR have completely abandoned their nihilistic, hip-shaking alterna-rock-funk roots. “No Future Shock” pounds out of the speakers with staccato rhythms, walls of guitars and bass, and multi-tracked vocals. The lyrics are an existential take on our 21st-century recessional malaise:
Burned up all your credit on a family of kids
who pop your pills and smoke your pipe
And after the war, broke your piggy bank
The bastards broke the world this time
“Will Do” starts out with a jewelry box melody but evolves into a multi-layered soul-pop gem that turns on the phrase “Any time will do, my love… no choice of words will break me from this groove”. “New Cannonball Blues” is built around a heavy, fuzzy synth bass line that’s easy to imagine oozing out of the speakers of a black Mercedes on the Sunset Strip.
The last quarter of Nine Types of Light is highlighted by two alt-rock tracks that would have fit in nicely on Dear Science. “Repitition” starts out with a tidy little guitar riff, but builds and builds until exploding in a firestorm of repetitive vocals. On “Caffeinated Consciousness”, the band sounds like they’re playing a soul number after shot-gunning double espressos. The trebly, fluid bass is way up in the mix and leads the band through constantly shifting rhythms, resolving the anxiety of the verses with the free grooves of the chorus.
On first listen, the fans that gravitated toward Return to Cookie Mountain and Dear Science might find the new TV on the Radio album a strange departure. But by replacing some of the post-millennial angst with more emotional and reflective elements, the glittering Angelino lights may have finally released the true soul of the band.
RIP Gerard Smith, 1974 – 2011