TV on the Radio – Dear Science

dearscienceEarlier this year I jumped on the My Morning Jacket bandwagon after ignoring the critical hype for a couple of years, and discovered that their latest album Evil Urges is one of the very best releases of the year.

Now it’s TV on the Radio’s turn. After seeing their Dear Science album on a heap of year-end top ten lists, owning the top spot in several, I broke down and bought the CD. The early verdict: Believe the hype. This is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard in years.

Being brand-new to the band, I don’t know if Dear Science is a major departure for them or typical of their sound. What I do know is this mixture of thick beats, atmospheric keyboards and soaring vocals feels exactly right.

I hear traces of Prince and Beck in several songs but there is a strong political current through much of the album that you don’t find in those artists’ work. The lyrics are dense and challenging but there is a definite message in every song, even if that message is as simple as ‘we’re fucked.’ And the songs that don’t center on the political are just as deft at dissecting matters of love and lust. The best tracks here do both.

Take the moving ‘Family Tree,’ for example, a love song about the forces of bigotry that get in the way of non-traditional romance. Four of the band’s five members are black and the song definitely applies to interracial relationships (though those horrified by Proposition 8 will find solace here as well).

We’re hanging in the shadow of your family tree
Your haunted heart and me
Brought down by an old idea whose time has come

It’s an added irony that lead singer and songwriter Tunde Adebimpe played the groom in this year’s Rachel Getting Married, part of an interracial coupling that goes completely unmentioned through the course of the film. This song makes you wonder if he hasn’t been as lucky in real life.

There is an anarchic streak here that fits in beautifully with the gut- and head-busting sonic explosions TV on the Radio has served up. Standout track ‘Crying’ finishes with this memorable verse:

Time to take the wheel and the road
From the masters
Take this car, drive it straight into the wall
Build it back up from the floor

But if you’re not paying attention to the call for revolution and not-so-veiled references to race riots and Middle Eastern politics, you’d mistake this for the best dance track of the year. And it is that — just more than that.

I’m turned off by a lot of music criticism, particularly those online outlets (Pitchfork, anyone?) that seem to equate mainstream with garbage. Sometimes it seems as if bands become critics’ darlings simply by appealing to as few “regular” people as possible. But TV on the Radio is completely deserving of the accolades and in a just world they’d find an audience worthy of their expansive talent.

Red Dress

Family Tree

3 thoughts on “TV on the Radio – Dear Science

  1. Amy says:

    I look forward to checking them out. Why no song featured here? I’m also intrigued that Adebimpe is yet another musician turned (sometime) actor. The ease with which so many musical artists move back and forth between acting and music fascinates me, especially since actors don’t seem to have nearly the same ability to make that transition (based, for instance, on the scathing reviews Scarlett Johansen’s album received)

  2. Clay says:

    I guess performing music is already a form of acting, while acting ability has no bearing on the ability to carry a tune or play an instrument. Zooey Deschanel has been the most successful actor-turned-musician in recent memory, in terms of actually releasing a well-received album.

  3. Clay says:

    I added a couple of songs.

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