Saturday, January 10, 2009

REVIEW: TV on the Radio's "Dear Science"

A few years ago I saw TV on the Radio supporting Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I really didn’t get it. Nothing seemed to gel for the band that day. All the strands that I can hear in their latest album, “Dear Science,” were there, but they remained disparate and seemed to struggle against one another. For one thing, they were playing support to a band I felt were the epitome of experimental, but controlled, guitar music, and somehow TV on the Radio were working against that control.

I suppose what I wanted out of the band was pop music (in its broadest sense) – that is, I wanted to hear hooks and melodies I could follow and reproduce in my mind. But, at least when I approached the band for the first time in a live setting, they just didn’t seem to cohere in that way. With “Dear Science,” that has all changed.

I don’t mean to suggest that I want straightforward music that is easy to digest, and I’m certainly not saying “Dear Science” is a ‘simple’ pop album. What it is, though, is an album which speaks to me (and hopefully to others) in a subtle but lucid language which can lead us carefully through intricacies with the band, rather than having us scratching our heads ‘on the outside’ of the album.

I have recently entered the fray regarding the Fleet Foxes, another band who have collected more accolades for their latest album than I have pipe dreams of super-stardom. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, NME, The Guardian etc. etc. have all leaped to TV on the Radio’s cause. This degree of hysteria makes me nervous, and inherently resistant.

Unlike in the case of the Foxes though, I really think there is some justice in a system that gives institutions like NME such sway over all our opinions in this case. They are absolutely on the money when Louis Pattison says the album is one of the best of the last year. “Dear Science” is packed with beautiful moments, elegant harmonies over heavy synths, driving rhythms moving around jazz brass sections – the list goes on. From playing a cacophonous gig in Boston city center that I quickly dismissed, TV on the Radio now have my absolute attention.

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