Maximum Balloon is TV On The Radio lynchpin Dave Sitek’s first foray into solo album territory. Well, it would be if he actually appeared front and centre at any point. Instead, the producer of Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (amongst others) hides behind a list of impressive guests who contribute vocals in place of Sitek himself.
With an overriding electro-pop feel to the album, Maximum Balloon is rather like a straight faced version of Gorillaz. There’s little in the way of humour to be found in the fat grooves and swelling synths of the album and the vocalists themselves are rarely outside of the comfort zone. There’s no flirting with characterisation, or super-magnified versions of their personalities here; they’re all merely lending their voices to Sitek’s ultra-tight funk-pop.
Kicking off with Groove Me, Sitek and guest Theophilus London waste little time in establishing a taut disco groove filled with sex appeal.�Despite some fabulously squelchy synths, clever injections of electro atmospherics, and occasional brass bursts, this is a surprisingly stripped back minimal affair. The guitars that provide the funk fuelled propulsion system appear to have been drafted in from Prince‘s heyday – they pucker up and kiss off with a stuttering tapping, as tight as a violin string and totally urgent.
Young Love follows in similar vein, clearly written with little more in mind than getting people moving, its gloriously laid back bassline underpins a finely produced drum pattern and a chorus the implores anyone in the vicinity to join in the fun. TV On The Radio bandmate Tunde Adebimpe provides a snakelike vocal for Absence Of Light, which is slightly darker than the two straight-up dancefloor pleasers that precede it. It might not inspire many to strut confidently into the dry ice smog, but the more introspective tone provides a different tack to the album, which is just as welcome as the more upbeat numbers. Regardless of tone, the insistent stabbing funk guitar remains, providing a sinister edge rather than a marker for “the one”. Kyp Malone appears on the similarly downbeat Shakedown. This time, rather than a sense of menace, a haze of stoned apathy hangs over proceedings. Malone comes across like a croaking George Clinton as a cloud of confusion and space synths envelop him. By the track’s conclusion he’s found his way to the bridge of the mothership and met his connection.
Karen O appears on the dreamy Communion, begging to given “that beat” as the musical landscape around her rises and falls like sunbeams inside a lava lamp. As per usual Karen O is absolutely perfect, proving herself to be one of the most versatile performers around. Sitek, allows her plenty of room to breathe, allowing the twirling guitars and bubbling synths to swirl around the vocal lines, rather than swamp her completely.
Apartment Wrestling takes its cue from David Bowie circa Fame, with its stripped back glacial funk. Despite David Byrne‘s presence, it somehow manages to come up lacking in substance and surprisingly provides one of the few disappointments on the album. By contrast, relative newcomers Little Dragon step up to the plate with admirable charm, positively grinning through the ever changing moods of electo-anti-depressant If You Return.
Maximum Balloon is by no means a perfect album, but there are some fantastic performances to be found (Karen O, Ambrosia Parsley‘s sultry Pink Bricks). It’s a shame that Sitek never steps up to the mic, but when you’ve got friends like these it doesn’t really matter.