Record review and Run through: TV on the Radio’s Dear Science

21 09 2008

Rarely does a band garner such success among its peers and fans while maintaining what one would call critical-success. A band that is loved by David Bowie and who collaborates with Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra is something of an oddity in this day and age. Their new album, Dear Science, is the follow up to 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain which saw the band  receive a huge increase in fans and sales. The album also reached #2 on Pitchfork’s end of the year chart only being beaten by The Knife’s Silent Shout. ( Which i have yet to listen to…) On this effort the band has taken notes on both Prince and David Bowie’s catalogues and created a new sonic landscape for listeners to live in for an hour. The band maintains their sonic balance with a new found funk sensibility to accompany Tunde Adebimpe’s soaring vocal swells. 

So now, a track-by-track run through Dear Science.

 

1) Halfway Home– Ba ba’s and a space-age, slice patch synthesizer draw the listener into TV on the Radio’s new album. Panned clapping and a rather mundane vocal line help to overpopulate what could very well be an introductory instrumental track. Near the two minute mark the song picks itself back up to wash off it’s excess instrumentation (incessant clapping) and in turn produces a lovely chorus. Another clapping bit and another chorus leads to a break down of sorts. A little bit of the sonic brilliance that has led the band to it’s current place in the world peaks through the clouds of a sometimes cluttered existence, only to end on a washout of fading synth sounds.

2) Crying– Enter David Bowie… I never knew that they could do a porn groove. This song could double as the title track off of the next major motion picture based on a wedding where the main character has endured heartbreak and loss only to find happiness in the end. Or it could feature in a latin audience dance movie titled !!!Sexo, Caliente, Baile!!!.… Forgive my Spanish but i think you get the point. This is actually one of my favorite songs that i’ve heard in awhile.

3) Dancing Choose– A 180 degrees turn around. We’re now in hot pursuit in an awfully over done flick with Jason Statham… Blistering vocal delivery and a great sounding synth line keep this stripped down track a filler song that serves it’s purpose as opposed to a song you’d usually skip. There’s also a nice set of cop-drama style horns in the background that sound quite nice.

4) Stork and Owl– There’s a lot of good stuff going on here. The plucked strings are a nice touch over top of the orchestral swells and synthesized drums. This is really pretty.

5) Golden Age– This track should just be titled “Golden Years Pt.2”. The chorus of this song is great, but the bits after the choruses are even better. Anchored by synth punches on the white people beats, this song will get all of Williamsburg hopping. This is a very solid song.

6) Family Tree– This is a pivotal part of the album. You’ve just descended from your peak and have to ease up a bit. Family Tree begins with beautifully processed piano chords that give way to a set of vocals that will continue to trade off as the song progresses. Around the 3:30 area, the song begins a slow ascent that quickly fades into just piano, as the song began. The end result is a graceful mid-tempo song that packs a nice emotional punch and serves it’s purposes in the middle of the album.

7) Red Dress– Straight out of the dancehall comes the song Red Dress. There are synths, marimbas, horns, and jangly guitars here. A really great groove but not much more… Perhaps that’s all that people want these days. 

8. Love Dog– Love Dog revolves around subtle set of sounds that slowly evolve over the course of 5 minutes. There are funeral march horns that retreat in time for a beautiful harp layer to enter. This is where I find myself lost in TV on the Radio’s sonic landscape. There’s just not enough substance to keep me interested. Sure it sounds cool, but what else?

9) Shout Me Out-Here we have a syncopated vocal line over top of 16th note picking that leads slowly to a chorus that doesn’t impress. However, it’s after that first chorus that song unexpectedly kicks (1:50). Another finely constructed Dave Sitek and company beat thrusts the song towards it’s next chorus. Then it dies? Not really… The song breaks down and re-builds itself with layers of fuzz and furious guitar playing over top of the same beat heard in the 2nd half of the song. Good work everyone.

10) DLZ– DLZ is unsettling. DLZ never ends. DLZ has a very annoying vocal progression. DLZ keeps aluding to dogs and popular phrases about dogs (The dog wants a bone). “This is beginning to feel like the long winded blues of the never” It’s a direct quote from the song… It’s very true. DLZ continues… DLZ could be a reference to a person with three first names. Derrick Lee Zaltzman, Darrell Leau Zyka, D’artangan Landsbury Zimmerman…. I could go for days, or atleast until the song ended.

11) Lover’s Day-This is a refreshing end to the album that was beginning to get on my nerves. A marching band full of percussion and woodwinds provide a solid foundation for Kyp’s optimistic vocals. They do take a nod from Yeah Sapphire’s “I was a skeptic at first but these miracles work” with their own, “Yes, of course there are miracles. You Better believe it” but i think that both songs can stand alone. In this last song of their new album the band shows off their production prowess and ends things on a high note. 

Whew…

 

This album, more than anything else, shows off the production skills of Dave Sitek. Yes, the vocals here are great, and the instrumentation bends genre lines…

Dear Science, is a reminder to all that TV on the Radio aren’t the best band out there. Yes, this album has several good songs, and yes this album had a large array of effective sounds, but what it lacked was focus and ambition. A band like TV on the Radio has thrived with fans and critics due their constant growth. This album does not see the same growth that occurred between Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes and Return to Cookie Mountain, but will do more to increase their fan-base and earning potential.

Overall, i’d say that I did in fact enjoy this album. The last few tracks felt weak to me while the rest of the album had one too many soft spots and one too many extended overtures that could have easily been avoided. The album still manages to capture the band’s sound, production skill and binary soul so give it a listen and buy the album via 4AD September 22nd.

 

Rating: 7.6

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