TV on the Radio

By Wade Ekstrom

When the moon is round and full, gonna teach you tricks that will blow your mongrel mind, proclaims Tunde Adebimpe on lead single “Wolf Like Me.” A bold statement, to be sure, but one that TV On The Radio fulfill on their soon-to-be-classic new album, Return to Cookie Mountain. Breaking through with 2004’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, the band quickly amassed widespread critical acclaim with its combination of avant-garde guitar waves, a cappella break downs, and Adebimpe’s unique, if somewhat spacey, lyrics and vocals. Soon, the band signed to Interscope Records and earned the privilege of being called one of David Bowie’s favorite new bands
With the requisite band history out of the way, let us get to what is really important: the music. Simply put, it is outstanding. Tunde Adebimpe is at his Marvin-Gaye-on-a-pack-a-day best, and Kyp Malone backs him with understated, yet gorgeous harmonies. Producer/ multi-instrumentalist David Sitek creates a thick, ominous atmosphere while also leaving the listener room to imagine. But perhaps the most important contribution comes from new drummer Jaleel Bunton. He pounds with a precision and ferocity that gives each of these eleven songs a sense of urgency that was often lacking on Desperate Youth.
In terms of highlights, take your pick. “I Was a Lover” employs light piano brushes, compressed guitar bursts, and a bellowing orchestra sample to stunning effect. “Playhouses” begins with a dense assault of guitars and synths that is soon silenced by Jaleel Bunton’s crisp drumming, only to crescendo back into a screeching climax. In contrast, the simple “A Method” provokes memories of Desperate Youth standout “Ambulance” with its basic yet gorgeous harmonies and playful whistling. With Adebimpe singing like a sex-crazed maniac on Red Bull, “Wolf Like Me” provides the albums only instantly memorable melody. However, if a masterpiece exists, it has to be “Tonight.” At a too-short seven minutes, the song is a cathartic meditation, with Adebimpe sadly crooning “So give it up tonight” over a celestial wash of sound. It is almost impossible to tell what instruments are being used, although the liner notes do say that David Sitek played “magic.”
However, intense listening reveals layers upon layers of subtly satisfying instrumentation. If there is something to complain about, it is the lyrics.
On Desperate Youth, Adebimpe wrote lyrics that were witty and emotional without being too obvious. Here, lines like “A recent memory of when we shit our bed of roses” lack the sly romanticism he once employed.
TV on the Radio take no stylistic deviations on this record. Instead, they simply take all that was good about their previous releases and crank it to eleven. Having already mastered their own sound, TVOR can literally take their sound in any direction they want. Let us hope their next release even comes close to matching the brilliance of Return To Cookie Mountain.