Music: TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio's third album, Dear Science, is flecked with Obama-esque hope.

By Juba Kalamka Jul 16, 2009

TV on the Radio
Dear Science

A cursory listen to the singles from TV on the Radio’s third full-length album (and second for major label juggernaut Interscope) might lead one to believe that the band had finally accepted the message sent by executives and A&R reps—huge critical successes are great, but they don’t translate into units sold. And that eventually becomes an issue for the biggest players in an industry faced with a decade-long sales slump due in large part to huge leaps in consumer access to lightning-fast developments in recording and distribution technologies.

A more accurate take would be that TV on the Radio is meta-narrating the ascent of their career, making both literal and abstract commentary on the dynamics of attempting to innovate in the context of an industry desperate for the next “big thing,” yet completely terrified of blowing apart the mechanism that’s long guaranteed a return from a product appealing to the lowest common denominator.

If the dark, lush production of 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain shined the band’s trademark walls of sound to a gloss that reflected and refracted the frustration, anger and darkness of the period onto itself, Dear Science would alternatively be flecked with Obama-esque hope. It’s not exactly deliverance from the Bush administration quagmire of nihilistic cynicism, but it is a cheeky, Parliament-Funkadelic-styled admonition to dance our way out of our constrictions, or at least through the end of the mortgage crisis and into a workable bankruptcy.

The project is more linear and bright overall, with vocalist/guitarist Kyp Malone trading in his blistering air raid siren-inspired riffs for more rhythmic leads. Still, producer/guitarist David Sitek has somehow managed to maintain a kind of hulking density, adding even more layers of samples and horn charts to the tracks and highlighting bassist/keyboardist Gerard Smith’s experimentation with alternating toy piano and distorted synth programmings.

The overall result is controlled and symphonic, with Cookie’s cacophony leaking through in the necessary moments. The band flips through a litany of late 1970s and ’80s punk and new wave influences as well, opening with the Ramones-inspired “Halfway Home.” Aside from the surprisingly one-note Palestine/Israel conflict commentary of “Crying,” lead singer Tunde Adebimpe’s lyricism is as deft as ever, from biting criticism of the mainstream media (“Dancing Choose”) to the crescendoing and impossibly optimistic “Golden Age” to the darkly moving, breakbeat-driven Dubya indictment “DLZ.”

Juba Kalamka is a founding member of the queer hip-hop group Deep Dickollective and creator of the label Sugartruck Recordings.
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