Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Review: TV On The Radio - Dear Science, (* * * * *)

In 2006, TV On The Radio exploded in a big way with their critically (and I would imagine somewhat commercially) successful Return To Cookie Mountain. It was deemed an instant classic, an album to which all other albums were measured against that year. It was unique, fascinating, visionary, and I didn’t really like it. I know, I know. Maybe it was just beyond my capacity to understand and appreciate. Whatever the reason, the album didn’t do it for me. I decide to give TV On The Radio another shot with Dear Science (I'm going to leave the comma out of the album name for punctuation's sake), one of the most anticipated releases of the year and an impossible one to ignore. It completely blew me away and has immediately become one of my favorite albums this year.

Dear Science marks TV On The Radio’s foray into modern pop music territory. I realize that might sound scary to some, but with the plethora of ideas and amount of experience the band brings to the table, nobody should be worried. While borrowing from a variety of bands and styles (“Golden Age” sounds like it was co-produced by Beck; “Crying” has all the funk and falsetto of Prince), TV On The Radio never sound derivative, providing their unique signature to each song. Credit should go to multi-instrumentalist and producer David Sitek for giving the album a warm, full sound and finding the balance between familiarity and experimentation. The menacing horns on “Red Dress” make for a danceable apocalyptic party tune, strings and keys add to the poignancy of “Family Tree,” and “DLZ”s distant thundering percussion is gripping and intense.

Of course, the true test of any album is not the production, but the songwriting, and Dear Science passes with flying colors. Lyricists and singers Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone are in fine form here; using their melodic and emotional voices to great effect. The beautiful harmonies and catchy choruses often belie very serious lyrical undertones dealing with death, change, and fighting the powers (Bush, probably) that be. Even if the tracks are easy to enjoy on a more superficial level, the depth of the writing makes the album truly special. The songs are both immediately accessible, and immensely rewarding upon subsequent listens.

Blending an eclectic mix of styles, cultures, and sounds, TV On The Radio have created what should once again serve as a measure for albums made not only this year, but well into the future. Dear Science is a triumphant testament to the vitality of pop music.

Favorite Tracks: “Golden Age,” “Red Dress,” “Crying”

Hear the full album on their MySpace Page