Sound: Between the soft spectral rays of Radiohead and the trip-hop-punk grooves of Gym Class Heroes lies TV On The Radio. The Brooklyn-based quintet have emerged with their fourth studio album Dear Science, delivering songs that deepen Tunde Adebimpe's reggae tempered vocals and places him in a backdrop of melodic patterns that go through more wardrobe changes than the UK's stage comedian Dame Edna makes in one performance. TV On The Radio developed a reputation for splashing punk rock with pigments of hip hop and reggae, and though the band has not discarded these aspects about their music, they experiment far more with synth-pop palettes which light up Halfway Home, Love Dog, and Family Tree from Dear Science. Their track Crying has an avant-pop coiling liken to Talking Heads wrapped around club beats and soul-inspired vocals that are reminiscent of old school Motown. The hip hop pole-vaults of Dancing Choose, Red Dress, and Golden Age have shots of billowing horns while the fluttering vessels and satiny fluidity of Stork & Owl have oddly placed nuances that are basted in vats of melodic shimmers.
As you are listening to this recording, you actually feel like you are transported into the studio with the band watching them behave like little kids at play tinkering with the buttons on the sound board figuring out different ways to change the texture of the melodies, tweaking them and dotting them with deposits of horns, strings, piano, or toy-like chimes. Somehow the songs put you in the middle of all the action like this is all done for your entertainment. Moving from track to track is like walking through a garden filled with a vast array of botanicals, herbs, and bright colored flowers. Coordinating these melodic patterns are multi-instrumentalists Kyp Malone (vocals, guitars, samples, bass, synths), David Andrew Sitek (programming, guitars, samples, bass, synths), Gerard Smith (bass, organ, synths, samples, Rhodes), and Jaleel Bunton (drums, guitars, Rhodes, organ, synths, bass, programming). They create a blend of Bob Marley-like grooves with stylish rock guitar effects relatable to Joy Division particularly in their song Shout Me Out, and then they close the album with a scintillating fusion of art-pop and club beats in Lover's Day showing melodic fabrications that touch David Bowie's works. // 8
Lyrics: TV On The Radio's lyrics use symbolism to convey the band's messages and show references to nature and celestial bodies like in the lead track Halfway Home. Adebimpe muses in the track, Wild spirits winds from out your chest / Collides with world and wilderness / It needs a gentle hand to call it home / Now surfs the Sun and scales the Moon / And winds the waistbands of her womb / All eyes ablaze the day you break your mold. The lyrics are open to interpretation and could mean something different to each individual. The lyrics cannot be held down to one meaning just like the band cannot be pinned down to having one type of sound. // 8
Overall Impression: Like kids in Santa's workshop, TV On The Radio puts their fingers in every pot of music that is accessible to them. They display showings of experimental rock, avant-pop, trip-hop-punk, reggae, and classic soul garbed in a plume of art flares. If you thought that you knew TV On The Radio's definitive sound, look again. Dear Science reveals several other layers to their craftsmanship which their previous three albums, OK Computer in 2002, Young Liars in 2003, and Return To Cookie Mountain in 2006, barely prepared listeners for back then. Sitek expressed in a recent press release, Music is the most flexible medium in the world for me There is no shortage of ideas, the hard part is not following each whim. This no doubt leaves more material for TV On The Radio to tap into, because afterall, Santa's workshop never stops coming up with new types of toys for kids, and equally, neither does TV On The Radio. // 8