Simply put, Return to Cookie Mountain is one of the best musical compositions recorded in the last decade. So how on Earth do you follow up a modern-day masterpiece? You don’t try. You reinvent your sound and do what you do best: challenge the ears of convention and explore new sounds. TV on the Radio doesn’t write songs. They compose pulsing soundscapes with melodic hooks and falsetto wordplay. And on their latest LP, Dear Science, the Brooklyn natives have upped the antie on what music can mean to fans in a time of greed, corruption and environmental devastation. TV on the Radio can now be mentioned, along with Radiohead, in the conversation about the most talented bands on the planet.
The apocalypse is here, and TV on the Radio are your tour guides. The release of Dear Science, couldn’t have been timed more perfectly. In the midst of environmental decay, the collapse of an eroding financial system, and a presidential election that will change the world forever, TV on the Radio choose their fights carefully. In a time where uncertainty awaits us at every turn, music can be our solace. To put it bluntly, these factors put Dear Science, up there with Of Montreal’s Skeletal Lamping for album of the year.
The album is all about its lyrics, and they have never been better. The themes have not changed much, but the words are harsh and thrashing. Guitarist Kip Malone’s presence is more pronounced, as he’s credited with the lyrics on five of eleven tracks. Malone leaves no stone unturned with his accusations, “Fuck your war | Cause I’m fat and in love and no bombs are falling on me for sure | But I’m scared to death that I’m living a life not worth dying for.” His tone is unapproving and thwarting, yet his voice remains soulful and euphonic.
Tunde Adebimpe, Malone’s lyrical counterpart and liaison, is equally up to task. His vocal styles are fresh and add depth to each track. On the album’s third track, Dancing Choose, Adebimpe rap/sings/talks for extended verses, rhyming off-beat melodies and never losing breath. His style doesn’t overshadow the content of his words. His lyrics require more analysis of meaning than do Malone’s, but it doesn’t take long to figure out his gripes and warnings: “And the half-hearted hologram, posed for the party | now he gloss full bleed on a deaf dumb tree | cod liver dollar signs, credit card autograph down for the record but not for freedom.”
Dave Sitek’s production is somewhat minimalist here compared to Return. The electronic blips and beeps and are still here, but the songs are more straightforward. There is less noise (see “Staring at the Sun” from the album Desparate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes) than on previous releases. You can almost say this is TV on the Radio’s attempt at going mainstream. Before the mudslinging and accusations of “selling out” are aimed at TVOTR, recognize the beauty in these compositions. The band incorporates more instruments than ever, and the tracks are more complex and layered. For example, on the album’s first single, Golden Age, one can hear a sax, trumpet, trombone, cello, conga, viola, and two violins. The result is musical euphoria wrapped in a political conscience.
Early on, there was a perception that TV on the Radio was not a great live band. I’m not sure where that came from, but it has since been dismissed twofold. The greatest concert I’ve ever attended was a TVOTR gig in Philadelphia two years ago. The band is currently on tour again, and a Fishpork review of their last Philly show is coming shortly.