TV On The Radio - Halfway Home
I am new to TV On The Radio so I have spent the last few weeks sampling their world. For those as green as me TV On The Radio (or TVOTR) are a Brooklyn based five-piece. There music is hard to categorise taking in as it does soul, electro, shoegaze, funk, doo-wop, free jazz and post-punk influences. I was initially intrigued by one description of them which invoked comparisons to David Bowie and early Prince. So I have been listening to their three albums; Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (2004), Return To Cookie Mountain (2006) and the recently released Dear Science. I won't go into too much detail about the first two. Desperate Youth is crammed full of ideas and influences which don't quite come together perfectly but are a hell of an introduction to a newbie like me, Cookie Mountain is a giant leap forward production-wise; a huge sonic assault of an album which attacks you from all angles. And Dear Science sees them bring the ideas, influences, production and music making intelligence together into their most cohesive release yet. It's extraordinary.
Just the opening track 'Halfway Home' contains Joy Division guitars, bouncy 'ba ba ba ba ba bum' backing vocals, and hand claps before a balladeering Bowie vocal lifts the song along with ethereal keyboards; but don't let all that beauty hide the fact that the lyrics are filled with dread and damage. What a start. The funky guitars on 'Crying' shouldn't blind you to the anger contained in lyrics like 'Time to take the wheel and the road/From the masters/Take this car, drive it straight into the wall/Build it back up from the floor.' Nor those lyrics spat out against the media on 'Dancing Choose'. In fact this album is filled with frustration, protest and the wish for change; all very apposite at his time of election in America.
The psychedelic 'Golden Age' yearns for a better future described by Kyp Malone's sensual falsetto vocal. And the unashamedly romantic 'Family Tree' with its simple piano accompaniment somehow manages to be so much more with strings, octave separated vocals and some skillful production from Sitek . Let's also talk about the lyrics that hint at something very dark indeed - 'We're hanging in the shadow of your family tree/Your haunted heart and me/Brought down by an old idea whose time has come/And in the shadow of the gallows of your family tree/There's a hundred hearts or three/Pumping blood to the roots of evil to keep them young.' Come on Chris Martin, keep up.
How do you recover from that? With the full on funk assault of 'Red Dress' of course, 'Fuck your war!' they shout and jangling guitars and a big brass section lead us into a big dance number. 'Love Dog' sounds simple at first but is beautifully textured, the vocals built up in layers, whilst subtle strings and beats reminded me of Bjork. There's even the dramatic collision of guitars and drum and bass on 'Shout Me Out'. But there's real menace in 'DLZ' with it's opening line 'Congratulations on the mess you made of things' and what follows is a barrage of imagery backed up by a religious sounding organ. To round things off there's the filthy 'Lover's Day' which comes on with all the pomp of a marching band and delivers lyrics that would probably make Prince blush.
It's a shameless end to an exhilarating album filled with musical invention, intelligent and politicised lyrics and top-notch production. Sitek seems to have found the right balance with this album; where Cookie Mountain sometimes collapsed under the weight it was carrying Dear Science is like a prize fighter, tipping the scales exactly where it needs to be, bouncing round the ring and landing blow after blow, leaving the listener punch drunk (sorry, enough metaphor, I should leave it to Tunde Adebimpe). That's the best I can do for now. It's very difficult to summarise how you feel when you hear something really exciting, you just want other people to hear it too. This is music chock full of energy, meaning and pure talent. Stop reading, start listening.
TV On The Radio - Golden Age