TV on the Radio
By Mike Randall
Now three full-length records in, it has become abundantly clear that TV on the Radio’s David Andrew Sitek has taken on a role not unlike that of The Roots’ ?love. Part conductor, part composer, part producer, Sitek is the musical equivalent of a rubber band, making it his mission to stretch his group in every possible direction it can go. While he’s demonstrated that he’s got an idea a minute, having hordes of ideas doesn’t necessarily equate to great albums. That is until now.
For the first time, Sitek has welded together a collection of sounds and elements into something that sounds purposeful. The result is Dear Science, the upbeat successor to Return to Cookie Mountain (the record that showed the first signs of TVOTR getting more polished), marking the band’s finest hour to date. Sounding less like an art project, Science seems as if the band, and specifically Sitek, went out of its way to make their music more digestible without dumbing it down. There isn’t necessarily structure, but there are clearly songs peaking their heads out and a greater emphasis on melody. The production remains as expansive as it was on Cookie Mountain, but here the songs are given room to breathe, resulting in a record that’s much tighter and more cohesive.
Known more as a band whose unclassifiable dark sound allowed them to comfortably share a stage with Nine Inch Nails, on Science, Prince would be a more likely companion. “Golden Age” is the centerpiece, an unmistakable single the world needs to hear. It’s slick and dance-tastic, delivered by singer Tunde Adebimpe with the combined swagger of Michael Jackson and the aforementioned Purple One. Along with the Sly Stone-funk of “Red Dress,” they’re the catchiest songs TVOTR has ever created. “You’re such a good dancer/Go on, you’re the star,” Adebimpe sings above tribal drums and a perfect bridge of brass provided by the always-on Antibalas, showcasing a new sense of rhythm that literally feels like forward motion. “Crying” is another example of TVOTR getting downright funky, this time amidst a circus of drum-and-bass rhythm enhanced with layers of beats and synth.
Despite some choice catchy moments, Science does not disappoint in challenging listeners – it wouldn’t be a TVOTR record otherwise. “Dancing Choose” is a wild cut featuring a classic Joy Division chorus, but it’s memorable for Adebimpe’s break-neck hip-hop-speed flow. Adebimpe morphs into David Bowie during “Stork & Owl,” which finds the band experimenting with different levels of programming above a waltz of plucked strings and excellent harmonization. The use of strings, horns and programming on Science is stunning, and it never gets in the way, especially on songs like “Family Tree,” as a shimmering, hypnotic piano vamp finds itself dissected by a wandering path of violin. Don’t be fooled, though, it’s darker than it sounds: “In the gallows of your family tree/there’s a hundred hearts or three/Put the blood to the roots of evil to keep them young,” Adebimpe sings. The production wizardry once again comes to mind during “Love Dog,” which recalls Radiohead’s “Morning Bell” if it collided with Bon Iver.
Even at its most accessible, TV on the Radio remains one of the most imaginative bands in music today. They’re the rare band you get the sense Miles Davis would listen to if he were alive, or even Jimi Hendrix. Their first three records have proven that they’re going to keep listeners on their toes every time they put something out, and if their maiden trio of releases is any indication, they’ll keep getting better and better. David Andrew Sitek will see to it.