Tuesday, September 23, 2008
TV On The Radio - Dear Science,
TV On The Radio
The comma-laden Dear Science, is a surprisingly positive and immediate effort from a band known primarily for a distinctively brooding sound that is typically described as post-apocalyptic. While each song on Return To Cookie Mountain, their 2006 breakthrough, is shrouded in a unique fuzz that inspires visions of broken machinery and rust, the entirety of their follow-up is shiny, clean, and, most shockingly, a lot of fun. If their debut Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was the apocalypse, and Cookie Mountain was the first sprout from beneath the rubble, then Dear Science, is the party.
That new brightness is a double-edged sword. The primary source of fun with Cookie Mountain, and to a lesser extent Desperate Youth, is in the discovery of musicality in the untraditional elements used to build not just atmosphere ("Playhouses," "Tonight," "Don't Love You") but front-and-center hooks ("I Was A Lover"). That aforementioned distortion-heavy signature sound of theirs is gone, replaced by drum machines, funky guitar lines, clean reverberations, and (gasp) hand-clapping. It's not really a better-vs-worse thing... one part of me had been looking forward to hearing what kind of crazy shit they'd come up with next, and the other part is just digging the new hotness.
If there is a clear disadvantage, it's in the smaller emotional punch Dear Science, packs. Their biggest songs, "Wolf Like Me" off Cookie Mountain and "Staring At The Sun" off Desperate Youth, are so strong because they're so immediate, urgent, and terrifying on the surface. The best work on Dear Science, doesn't carry the same rage or spite... by contrast, it's sleek and composed. More intimate, maybe, but not as effective in stirring up a deep response.
But at the same time, that best work is really excellent. Their mastery of rhythm is on full display, particularly on the faux-rap intro to "Dancing Choose" and the faux-African horns of "Red Dress" (contributed by, er, non-faux Afrobeat band Antibalas). "Crying" is slowly becoming a favorite, its choruses becoming increasingly thick with horns and synths on top of the main guitar riff. "DLZ" has a heavy, almost Zeppelin-ish stomp. "Lover's Day" is a strong, call-to-arms closer that leaves you with the kind of explosion that every album should end with.
Even their filler is better than ever, far superior to that of Cookie Mountain and Desperate Youth. "Love Dog" and "Family Tree" aren't as deep or unique as "Dirtywhirl" or "Let The Devil In," for example, but they work a whole lot better, both as complements to the stronger tracks and on their own.
When I last wrote about Cookie Mountain, I suggested that TVOTR was capable of more. While Dear Science, is not quite what I had in mind, and while it won't Represent Something Important the way that Return To Cookie Mountain did, it's easily one of the top releases of the year. It stands as evidence that TVOTR are realizing how good they are, gaining confidence in their abilities, and relying less on sonic trickery to make compelling music.