Monday, October 02, 2006

I Reserve The Right To Change My Mind, Vol. I

This newest feature concerns TV On The RadioReturn To Cookie Mountain has become a massive critical/underground success and an instant classic of visionary rock.  But, as an admitted late adopter, it's taking me a while to make up my mind about them.

I recognize why TVOTR is a big deal.  This is not a Strap Your Strands Stray Scram strituation situation, where I think TVOTR should be purged from the universe as violently as possible.  Not at all; their worthiness is self-evident.  Songs like "Province" and "Wolf Like Me" are special, particularly "Wolf."  As instrumentalists, they are talented to a man.  Their musical ethic, integrating portions of eclectic-with-respect-to-each-other genres (blues, Afro-pop, post-rock, etc.), works well, and in surprising ways.  The end result, as a whole, has a beautiful quality to it that I can't really grasp.  It's enough to convince me that TVOTR should make music for as long as they want.

The thing is... I'm not having much fun on Cookie Mountain.  In short, I was promised cookies, and I'd like them, please.

To illustrate, consider the curious case of Sigur Rós.  Their ethic is similar to TVOTR's: the music is manipulated to elicit a wide array of emotional responses, rather than just rocking first and asking questions later.  After a few stunning atmospheric albums, notably 2001's Agaetis Byrjun, they pumped up the rock on their most recent album, Takk.  Not only does "Glosoli" rock to the core while residing in the band's idiom, it is a better demonstration of what Sigur Rós wants to do on an artistic level: build the momentum (and the audience's emotion) slowly, and release it all into a nuclear explosion.  Takk is littered with songs that do likewise.  Because I was able to latch onto Takk, I can appreciate Agaetis Byrjun a lot more than I would otherwise.  The later, accessible album put their earlier work in perspective for me.

TVOTR needs their balls-to-the-wall rock-out moment... that moment where I can appreciate everything else the band is about.  Despite having sampled a vast array of musical genres, they seem to have done so without maintaining the core element that makes each genre so great: energy.  The hypnotic slower tempos in which the band lingers work a little too well on me.  By the end, the songs just bleed together.

It's not like they can't turn up the intensity.  "Wolf Like Me" and "Wash The Day" prove that they can.  But it's not enough.  Besides, it's obvious that rocking out is not part of the mission.  Maybe that's what bothers me... "Wolf" is a tease.  They give us The Rock, followed by a series of songs that seem flat by comparison.  I want more "Wolf," but the band doesn't.  Maybe they'll give it to me, maybe they won't.  But I think they need it.

Other bands I've accused of holding back have proven me wrong in the end.  Bloc Party and Tapes 'n Tapes come to mind.  But both Silent Alarm and The Loon project a deeper intensity beneath their lacking-on-the-surface sound.  They keep going crazy-go-nuts in their own way, and you eventually come around.  TVOTR does not carry that kind of intensity.  There's no rush, no adrenaline.  It just rolls, and rolls, and rolls.  I want more than that.

So, as of October 2, 2006, I think Return to Cookie Mountain is a portobello burger from a five-star restaurant: no matter how perfectly they cook it, I'd rather have prime rib.  But I reserve the right to change my mind.

1 comment:

  1. don't think I didn't notice the anti-vegetarian food tone to your last comment... (ok, it wasn't veiled at all, I just thought I would point it out).