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TV On The Radio
Seeds John S.W. MacDonald , November 20th, 2014 17:57

TV On The Radio emerged 15 years ago at a time when a certain idea of Brooklyn (and New York in general) was becoming fashionable – gritty, druggy, louche, guitar-centric – yet their manic, overtly arty pop always set them apart. A frighteningly lucid distillation of psych rock, post-punk, funk, and synth-pop, their music simply had more going on than their hot-guitars-and-cold-beer peers, and no one else had two front men who could match Tunde Adebimpe's and Kyp Malone's dueling falsettos. Part of the fun of their records, particularly 2006's Return To Cookie Mountain and 2008's Dear Science, was hearing all those ideas and influences collide, those moments when the music would fizz, foam and bubble over. But as brainy as TVOTR could be, they never lost the beat. This was band that wanted you to dance.

It's an approach that has proven remarkably durable. Despite sounding little like the music that emerged out of New York's early-aughts indie-rock explosion, TV On The Radio played a hugely important role in defining that era, and what has come after. While the nostalgia rock championed by The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has largely faded from the city's musical consciousness, TVOTR's polyglot aesthetic, their freedom from genre, has become an indelible part of the Brooklyn sound.

Seeds, the band's first record since 2011's Nine Types Of Light, and the first for new label Harvest and since the passing of bassist Gerard Smith – is the most streamlined, most polished, most sharp-edged album of their career. And yet it manages to retain their trademark schizophrenia. Every fuzzed-out beat and soaring vocal harmony is in its right place – still the music never quite settles down.

Seeds is after big, bold emotions. Adebimpe and Malone have always been shameless romantics, but they wear their hearts on their sleeves more here than they ever have before. These are songs about love and its discontents, about rising above, getting through and getting over, and, with a couple notable exceptions, the production (again by guitarist Dave Sitek) is just as airy, expansive and dramatic. Album highlight 'Trouble' marches along on a solemnly strummed acoustic guitar and a muddy 4/4 beat – the perfect vehicle for Adebimpe's creeping anxiety ("The devil's got my number / It's long overdue he'll come lookin' soon") – before exploding in a haze of strings and swirling vocal harmonies. "Everything's gonna be OK!" Adebimpe sings, and you can't help but believe him. Album opener 'Quartz' and the catchy-as-hell 'Happy Idiot' pull off similar tricks: puffing up TVOTR's sound without dulling its impact.

Predictably, there are times when this newfound accessibly turns cloying. At six minutes plus, 'Ride' aims to be the record's epic, stadium-rousing centerpiece, but instead veers queasily into Coldplay territory. Adebimpe follows up a far-too-long piano and Mellotron intro with lines like "Caught up in the feeling" and the UNICEF slogan "We are more than only human." Fortunately, these forays into the middle of the road are rare, and anyway, they're leavened by a handful of straightforward rockers. 'Lazerray' is a blast of fuzz bass and good times (and features a backing vocal from Kelis). While 'Could You' rides a punky 12-string guitar riff pulled straight from The Byrds into a phalanx of blaring horns.

In fact, as successful as Seeds is at cleaning up TVOTR's act and expanding their horizons, the band seem to have the most fun when they embrace their grittier, dirtier past. 'Winter' is little more than raging power chords – the Stooges minus the rhythm section – a pained, full-throated ode to long nights and brutal cold. "So completely in the dark now/I hope the night will last forever!" Adebimpe yelps. TVOTR may have made this record in LA, but they clearly had Brooklyn in their hearts.

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