Parping sax, dense, bludgeoning industrial bass throbs, and a cracked sleazy nursery gospel are just the first noises that hit your ears on the opening seconds of TV On The Radio’s shimmering debut. Featuring an opening lyric of intent “Woke up in a magic nigga movie/ With the bright light pointed at me as a metaphor”. This is clearly not Coldplay.
Emerging out of the steamy sewers of Brooklyn, these four black guys and a token honky nerd, have had critics creaming their collective jeans since the release of their debut EP Young Liars, and for once, they could actually justify the hype swooping around them. Produced by Yeah Yeah Yeahs producer David Andrew Sitek, this is sonic alchemy of the highest order. Expect the unexpected and then expect some more.
They’ve been dubbed “the black Cocteau Twins” (they’re not) but come across at times like a drunk angry Prince fronting My Bloody Valentine. Vocalists Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone swoop soulfully over and around lyrics, one providing falsetto counterpoint to the other, melding abstract lyrics over the looping frenetic guitar, fuzzed bass and glitch drum tracks.
With their uncertain edgy viewpoints as outsiders observing and the frisson of technicolour genre clashes, they concoct a tense, dramatic, soulful post-rock. It hovers on the edge of pop sensibilities yet also has an eye on the murky underground before things get too comfortable. Drama is presented in the rubbing of frail voices against electro feedback, solitary instruments bursting free to give life to the humanity against the machines. This is truly music for metaphors.
Recent single Staring At The Sun is more approachable and manages to taint the bland chorus of “staring at the sun, standing in the sea, your mouth is open wide” with a sense of foreboding and menace. Vocals joust, slide and slip off each other, as the hypnotic groove revolves underneath like a undertow threatening to pull you under, or containing something unspeakable.
Barbershop meets pseudo doo-wop harmonies on the spiralling spooky-acapella of Ambulance, Poppy sounds like a bastard cross between Peter Gabriel‘s Biko and The The‘s Giant, as it breaks down thrillingly from strident stomp of tribal march to spiritual vocal and back up again – stronger, stranger and more soulful than either of the reference points.
Knowledge that true drama comes in creating tension in these stalking tunes that circle on the edge of the cliff without charging into the obvious sonic bombast is one of the compelling strengths of TV On The Radio. That would be disappointing if they followed them through. Conflict and no resolutions mark their work out as standing up to repeated listening to reveal more depths.
Like the film Shrek, TV On The Radio have layers, and while the casual listeners seeking immediate pop thrills may be disappointed, those digging in for the haul will be delighted for delving into the psychedelic fog for these strange and rewarding musical pearls.