Sound — 9
While breaking new ground with their first LP release Desperate Youth Bloodthirsty Babes, Tv On The Radio has perfected their ecletic mix of indie-rock, soul, and trip-hop with their newest release, Return to Cookie Mountain (from the name of a level in Super Mario World for NES). Vast sonic soundscapes blanket the record with eerie guitar lines, strange synth samples, and pounding African-drum-circle-esque percussion rooted with a thick dub bassline. The production is top-notch, by band guitarist and producer Dave Sitek, whose eccentric studio techniques really shine through as something very genuine and thoughtful. While most music that relies heavily on electronics tends to sound dull and programmed, Siteks production sucks the listener into a vast soundscape of near-apocalyptic proportions dosed with a touch of hope, as Sitek puts it "music you will be listening to when the whole world burns up." While this creates the perfect backdrop for the record, one of the stand-out aspects of TVOTR's music is the hauntingly soulful vocals of lead singer Tunde Adebimpe, and the near-falsetto back-up vocals by guitarist/singer Kyp Malone. Their vocal harmony blends well without stepping on each others toes, or tongues I guess. With guest apperances by the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, who add tremendous depth with multiple horn and drum accompaniments, as well as David Bowie's vocals on Province, this is by far one of the best albums in recent years. While this is an amazing record, the numerous layers of over-dubs can get a bit tedious when you're trying to find the melody and Kyp's falsetto vocals can get tiresome at points, but as a whole, this record is brave and exciting in a world full of repeats of others innovations. If the world was to end in an hour, this would be the perfect soundtrack to the end of times.
Lyrics — 8
The songwriting behind TVOTR is a collaborative effort between Adebimpe, Sitek, and Malone who each contribute their own unique perspectives. The lyrics are riddled with metaphors, odd-references, and whimsical humour that juxtaposes the seriousness of the end-of-days lyrics that run rampant throughout. The record opens with Kyp Malone's high-pitched croon, "I was a lover, before this war..." setting the tone for the rest of the cd. References to the apocalypse, bleakness/beauty of city-living, and Post-9/11 dread blend well with the theme the music conveys. Siteks' interpretation was along the same lines. "I didn't want to make an apocalyptic album. It was just hard to shut out everything else that was going on. All the evidence is there that the world could be ending, so while we were making the record, we were constantly reminded of that by what was happening around us." Tundes' voice is full of hope and dread that marry well with mood of the music and message of the lyrics. While some of the lines are able to be deciphered to reveal the story, others are so seemingly random it's hard to decide whether they mean anything at all or just scribbled down in a haze of smoke and laughter. Overall the message seems to be clear; this could be the end of the world and we feel fine.
Overall Impression — 10
The album as a whole rings like a beacon of humanity. The music shines with primal-rhythm, hip-hop inspired sampling, indie-guitar sensibility, and soulful vocals that wave the flag for the end of days and how to begin again from scratch. While listening to experimental music can be like pulling teeth, this record never flat-lines and keeps you interested till the very end, although this may not be for everyone. If you not into indie-rock or hip-hop and soul, this might not be your cup of tea. Compared to their contemporaries, this album stands-out as completely of their own without following anyones footsteps, while paving the way in a fresh, untouched snow of sound. I love this record for their complete avoidance of cliches, the originality, and the personal connection you feel with the band and the music. I don't necessarily hate anything about this record, although some songs are a little redundent and don't always complete themselves comfortably. A little more structure would have been nice, much of it sounds like extended jam sessions. Overall, if you have a fairly eclectic taste in music and like something different, this is definetly worth checking out. I would buy this CD a million times over if I had to.