TV On The Radio
As this NPR piece so brilliantly states, artists often find themselves at a crossroads midcareer, either endlessly repeating what they have been successful doing or they go scrambling for a new sound with very little success. TV On The Radio, collectively one of LxL’s favorite bands, found themselves in mid-career land on their fourth album Nine Types of Light, an album that angled for a more straightforward rock radio-friendly sounds, but ultimately was their first disappointing release. They traded in some of the weirdness and layers of sound that might them so fun to keep turning to time and time again for a more instant but more shallow sound. Seeds, the New York rockers fifth album, finds the band going for that more immediate pop sound as well, but it’s hooks are stronger, songs are tighter, and layers are more interesting than Nine Types of Light, even if it doesn’t reach the height of their two masterpieces, Return to Cookie Mountain and Dear Science.
TV On The Radio come out of the gate swinging on Seeds, with four of the album’s best songs opening up the record. “Quartz” has Tunde Adebimpe trying to get beyond a broken relationship, but like the singer himself, you can’t help but get caught up in the waves of love (and sound). “Careful You” has to be the most TV On The Radio-sounding TV On The Radio song ever, with it’s cloud of apocalyptic noise that hangs over the song, and a constant feeling that something is amiss under Tunde’s soulful vocal. It’s what fans have grown to love about the band distilled into five minutes. “Could You” follows, which may be an extremely similar title to “Careful You”, but its as different as it gets from its predecessor, serving as more of an anti-thesis to the TVOTR sound. “Could You” is essentially the bright, jangly folk of the Byrds as interpreted by the strange, husky sound of TV On The Radio, making it the best and most surprising song on Seeds. “Happy Idiot”, the current single for Seeds, is another pleasant change of pace for the band, a post-punk inspired pop tune that sort of serves as whip-smart critical counterpart to Pharrell’s smash hit “Happy”. Look, even Peewee Herman agrees!
Coming off that murderer’s row of songs, TV gives us a big hangover with easily the worst track of the album, the mundane comedown of “Test Pilot”. This might be my least favorite song the band has recorded, and I generally love their ballads like “Dreams”, “Stork & Owl”, and “Family Tree”. The melody sounds cheap, the harmonies are overly sentimental, and it just feels out of place in their catalog. Fortunately they recover quickly with the propulsive “Lovestained”, led by Kyp Malone’s freaky vocal, who is the real MVP of the band in my opinion. While Tunde beautifully sings the majority of TV’s songs, Dave Sitek adds the layers and production, and Jaleel Bunton adds the intricate and thunderous percussion, it’s Kyp’s shroud of guitar noise, haunting harmonies, and straight up weirdness that keeps TV On the Radio one of the most distinct rock bands out there. “Lazerray” also deserves a mention, as it’s maybe the most thrilling song on the album and a surefire live favorite, as it’s a Ramones-style pop punk nugget but with all the crunch and darkness that TV On The Radio has to bring.
I’m happy I sat with this album for a couple weeks, as my grade has probably went up a point and a half from repeated listens. TV On The Radio is a band built for repeated listening, as they add enough layers and surprises to unsurface with each listen. I didn’t expect this album to be the same because of the immediate catchiness of its melodies, but the second half especially with multi-chapter songs like “Lovestained” and “Ride” prove more exciting with each listen. Seeds is proof that when artists get long in the tooth, the best bands keep creating something fans know and love but in new and surprising ways.
Can’t Miss: “Could You”, “Happy Idiot”, “Lazerray”, “Lovestained”
Can’t Hit: “Test Pilot”