Tuesday, October 03, 2006

TV on the Radio makes waves

This is my second review for my Critical Writing class - a 400-word review. Two small things I didn't include: "Province" features guest vocals by David Bowie, which should get hardcore Bowie-philes to pick up the album; also, the album came with a poster designed by singer Tunde Adebimpe. It's currently on the wall in my room.

On any recording today, the term "funk" has come to mean the sound of thumb-slapped electric bass playing some syncopated rhythm. George Clinton, who invented the genre with the bands Parliament and Funkadelic, would be appalled. Without any instance of that "characteristic" sound, the newest album by New York-based group TV on the Radio takes the word back to the way Clinton defined it: strange, irregular and off-beat.

On "Return to Cookie Mountain," TVOTR reintroduces the spacey, uncategorizable elements that made Clinton into the pioneer of "intergalactic funk." Singers Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe show great flexibility in switching from shrill falsetto to throaty baritone. Their vocals are the most important ingredient in the album’s soundscape, floating over the haze of buzzing guitars and droning samples.

The group’s multi-instrumentalist Dave Sitek (he is credited with guitar, bass, keys and sampler) also produced the album, and his production features a careful balance of static drones and bustling energy. The drone comes from guitars, synthesizers and sitar, and it creates a uniform sound world for the whole album, stretching out underneath every track from the opening "I Was a Lover" to the last, "Wash the Day."

The energy churning beneath the mellow surface comes from drummer Jaleel Bunton’s light-handed, complex playing. He drives the fast songs with nimble stickwork and adds emphatic bass drum thumps and cymbal crashes to the slowly unwinding numbers.

Bunton is the key to the album’s best track, "Wolf Like Me," driving the bass groove snare and tom-tom. During the bridge, the guitars drop out to reveal the sampled sound of a tinkling music box and a chorus singing "oohs" and "ahs," and Bunton dials back his playing. He then leads the charge back in, pounding away underneath the layers of voices and synthesizers.

Similarly chorus-like vocals also stand out on "Province" and "Let the Devil In." Sitek’s production presents this singing in a very sensitive fashion, preserving the lyrics as well as the grunts and groans. These utterances recall another dominant but lesser-known frontman: H.R., from the Washington, D.C. reggae-punk outfit Bad Brains.

The lyrics, penned by Malone, Adebimpe and Sitek, sometimes seem like more of an afterthought. The characters in the songs drink too much and mourn squandered opportunities. But even if their boredom and sadness is less than profound, the talent backing them up is off the charts.

1 comment:

Raquel Laneri said...

David Bowie sings on it???? That's awesome!!!