It was a privilege being able to sit down and listen to TV On The Radio’s album Dear Science from start to finish. An added bonus was the fact that I’ve been in the America for a month — the album sums up the atmosphere I have witnessed in the US: tension, money, a bigger gap between rich and poor than I’ve ever seen, a never ending far away war, and some vague hints at political hope. From the inset, TV On The Radio get bad ass on you, combining their trademark layers of barber shop vocals with criss-crossing handclaps over doomsday synth pads and screaming guitars on Halfway Home, which is like a grown up cousin of Wolf Like Me from their 2006 LP Cookie Mountain, easing you into the fact that beyond this point they are going to erase everything you thought you knew about TVOTR. But you should have expected that anyway.
Surprises! Horns! (by New York afro beat crew Antibalas) and bubbling and skanking guitars surface their heads. It’s like they couldn’t keep their funk at bay any more, and it is a welcome surprise.
Crying, Golden Age and almost half of the album seem to hark to Prince, Bowie’s ‘Station to Station’ and even Peter Gabriel, with stuttering head nod beats and understated bass lines.
They have hit their stride lyrically and sonically, fading out their self-conscious wall of delayed guitars and noise, trading them in for rich strings, keeping the textures they have always had but using them to full effect.
Stork & Owl (respect for the ampersand) is a true tear jerker, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone weaving a strange fairy tale metaphor over a rolling crunk like beat with layers of plucked and bowed strings.
Producer and band member Dave Sitek has proven himself to be the genius we all thought he was, after the slight diversion of his production on Scarlett Johansson’s dissapointing ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’ (but hey everyone’s gotta get paid).
He combines drum machines and programmed beats and synths with live instrumentation, layering without overcomplicating, adding gradually — particularly on the slower ballads: Love Dog reaching the similar ecstatic points of Bjorks Joga, with an outro of a filtered cascading beat playing across epic strings.
Maybe he has laid off the weed a little — ‘sitting in my underwear doing bong hits is how I get a mix to gel’ (from an interview with Remix magazine). Or maybe he hit it harder?
Every song has it’s won merit.
It cements the fact that TVOTR have made a focused, funky, emotional, complex album, a struggle between doom and hope, at once experimental and avant garde but also managing to be Pop.
I wish I was still here to see them at The Brooklyn Masonic Temple in October. But I have to wait until they come to Australia.