TV On The Radio / Return to Cookie Mountain / CD Review
TV on the Radio can best be described as a somewhat experimental rock band. The band exists as a group of New York friends with the main members being Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone, David Andrew Sitek, Jaleel Bunton, and Gerard Smith. I say experimental because the sound is completely unique within the scope of current popular music. I say somewhat because the sound remains very approachable and greatly melodic, in a disconnected sort of way.
Return to Cookie Mountain is their first major label (Interscope) release after garnering critical acclaim with three releases under Touch and Go Records. I’ve spun the album a few times and it is quite simply amazing. No two songs on the record sound the same, but it achieves a cohesiveness and a unity of sound that can only be accomplished with impeccable musicianship and arrangement skills. Much of it is based in electro and loops, but the instrumentation layered in results in a remarkable richness of sound and level of complexity. Not to mention the vocals of Adebimpe and Malone are greatly moving and simultaneously offer nuance and power, grace and pain, subtlety and soul. The songs conjure the likes of David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, and Brian Wilson. “A Method” could have easily been a track on Pet Sounds (aside from the lyrical content) as its multi-track vocals and percussion are The Beach Boys to a tee. The sonic range on the album is incredible and yields a level of musical eccelcticism that has all but vanished in today’s music.
A prime example of this range is particularly evident in the first track, “I Was a Lover.” The song starts off with a kick/snare techno beat followed six seconds later by a soft, picked out guitar lead that is synchronous with an abrupt, completely non harmonious horn effect. Somehow this stuff together with the right timing manages to sound “musical.” Twelve seconds later the vocals kick in, “I was a lover…before this war,” transforming the track into a soul song, but not before a couple of static noise effects are loudly introduced that attempt to take over the song while the horn mutates into what a robotic elephant might sound like. Eventually the pleasant melody returns with the vocals following carrying slightly less soul. As the song progresses different flavors such as piano are introduced and taken away, and eventually the noise that was an intrusion before becomes the melody and ends the song as a completely different beast.
“Let the Devil In” is a percussion driven song that seems to have its roots in tribal African music with markedly raucous, joyful group vocals. “Wolf Like Me” is an electronica punk song with a very atmospheric middle break down that eventually gives way back to punk but not without changing the song. “Dirty Whirl” offers a jazz fusion sound with vocals resembling a hot night club singer in the ’20s. “Blues From Down Here” does New Wave better than New Wave did it in the ’80s.
Finally, “Hours” and “Province” (the latter with David Bowie backed vocals) are two of the best songs I’ve heard in the last 15 years. They are beautifully written and arranged and damn near perfect songs. I know I’ve talked up this album to a very high plane, but I’ve heard a lot of music in my life. Albums and groups like this do not come along often, and with todays music barely indistinguishable from a corporate business, I consider myself extremely lucky to have come across this album and this band.