Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"From the Archives": TV on the Radio - Dear Science,

So, the website I used to write for shut down and stopped paying their bills, meaning that hundreds of my old reviews are no longer accessible on the internet. In the meantime, I need a place to make a few old reviews available for a bit, so I thought I'd post them here.

This review was first published at www.30music.com in 2008.

Artist: TV on the Radio
Title: Dear Science,
Label: DGC/Interscope
Format: CD
Year: 2008

At first, TV on the Radio’s third LP, Dear Science, might seem a little lightweight. It’s not, and it’s foolish to think so, but the mistake is at least an understandable one. After all, when compared to the messy, brooding storm of post-modern gloom that was TV on the Radio’s last album, the appropriately celebrated Return to Cookie Mountain, it’s easy to see how Dear Science, might come across a bit on the breezy side. In fact, it seems as if many of the dense layers of murky fuzz and explosive rhythms have been replaced by an odd combination of funk based pop songs, and cavernous ballads with gorgeous production. That’s not to say that TV on the Radio has completely reinvented themselves—the songs on Dear Science, still mix stormy atmosphere with occasional glimpses of unfettered fun, and unhinged euphoria—only that the songs are more streamlined with more emphasis on melody and rhythm, while the atmosphere is scaled back. To speak of the change in metaphor, if Return to Cookie Mountain was a short story made into a novella with pages of atmospheric description, then Dear Science, is the refined, and concise short-form follow-up, the story is just as big but the final scene ends within 6,000 words of the first sentence.

With that metaphor in mind, maybe the biggest strength on Dear Science, can be found in its production. David Sitek has done a fantastic job in crafting every moment, of every song on the album. Whether it be in the deft touch brought to the Michael Jackson and Prince moves of “Golden Age,” or the restrained quiet of “Family Tree,” Sitek’s production gives each song a memorable identity while maintaining the vague but necessary ‘cohesion’ that critics require of ‘albums,’ a feat that even the masterfully atmospheric Return to Cookie Mountain couldn’t quite manage. On Dear Science, even the tracks built out of funk rhythms sound markedly different—“Golden Age,” is light and ecstatic, while “Red Dress,” is more aggressive, packed with horns, heavy percussion and hints of afro-beat.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Dear Science, is TV on the Radio's overt preoccupation with sex. Of course, sex isn’t new to the band’s repertoire, but in the past it has been fleeting, an afterthought. Most of Dear Science, is dripping with sex, especially the funkier tracks. The melody of “Crying,” slides in and over the vocals, twines itself between the rhythmic guitar line, settling into the song’s bleak imagery—which, incidentally has nothing to do with sex. Elsewhere, while “Crying” laments “the riots/And the races on fire,” the song’s sexy tone makes it a little easier to buy into the promise of building the song’s metaphorical crashed car “back up from the floor.” With this in mind, “Lover’s Day,” is allowed to work as the album’s ecstatic, escapist coda. The song, built on such violent expressions of passionate love like “I want to break your back,” and the more overt, “I’m going to make you cum,” is the final leaving behind of the grim world of culture, in favor of a love that “will get so hot it will melt our faces off.”

With Dear Science, TV on the Radio have managed to build the most focused and impressive album of their career. The album thrives on an economy of sound and words, always building toward exuberant release. After following TV on the Radio through an album’s worth of songs about the overwhelming nature of politics and culture, it’s hard to deny the album’s ecstatic closing call of “I’m gonna take you home” over a light drum roll, and trilling woodwinds that gradually explode into a full horn section, and choral outro. In uncertain political and economic times, its easy to dismiss such a notion as escapist. There’s nothing wrong with that though. It’s only human to dig into personal connections to find relief from the outside world.

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