Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Album Review: "Dear Science" by TV On the Radio

If you can't handle a praise-fest, stop reading right now. TV On the Radio's new album, Dear Science, is SO GOOD that it'd be impossible for me to write a balanced review of it. There's just nothing bad I can say about it. I don't say this lightly either. There are very few albums by even fewer bands that I think have made an album worthy of this treatment. OK Computer, Nevermind, Whatever People Say I Am That's What I'm Not...maybe a handful of others in the last 20 years.

My point is, this is a fantastic album. I think TVOTR have forced themselves into the conversation of "best active band in the world" (with my personal criteria being: if every band in the world released an album tomorrow, whose would be the best?). Before I listened to Dear Science, I'd have said Radiohead without much hesitation.

This album delivers on the promise of the Brooklyn five-some's first two albums, which had some great singles ("Staring at the Sun", "Wolf Like Me", etc.), but lacked cohesion, direction, and got a bit boring at times. They've stuck to the same mix of instrumentation: distorted, buzzy guitars and synths, soulful and funky bass, driving drums, horns, sax, "loops", some strings, and the wicked wailing of Tunde Adebimpe.

Their sound is more mature now. They seem more confident. They've dropped the outright melancholy and added a touch of light and hope. It's not like they've turned into Belle and Sebastian; they've just breathed a new liveliness into their songs.

The result is a collection of gradually intensifying symphonic rock anthems, beautifully constructed electro-ballads, and furiously funky dance tracks. Everything they try on this album works. Adebimpe's voice is controlled chaos, laid over precise beats and intricately crafted melodies that actually go places, unlike a lot of other bands' songs.

Key tracks:
"Golden Age" - The album's first single. This funky little number with a funky bassline and retro brass chorus has the feel of an anthem while also moving airily and freely.  

"Family Tree" - Coldplay wishes they could write sentimental ballads with this much depth. This track features strings and synths, with subdued vocals pouring out syncopated beauty. 

"Crying" - A good example of their newly positive sound. The funky little guitar riff and Adebimpe's falsetto make the song light. It moves, it grows. It's the new TVOTR at its best.

"Dancing Choose" - This is my personal favorite. Its frantic rock-rap verses give way to a slick, smooth chorus, which gives way to even more frantic verse with saxophone harmonies that build in intensity throughout the song. It's an absolute instant classic.

"Love Dog" - This is stunning track featuring strings, synths, driving beats, syncopated falsetto, and some heart-wrenchingly beautiful chord progressions.

Rating: 10/10 - An absolute classic. This album will define this band and maybe even all of rock music for the decade, as OK Computer did for the 90s.

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