Sunday, June 28, 2009
42. Dear Science, by TV on the Radio
TV on the Radio has a lot going for it as a band. They comprise a crew of talented, creative musicians. They have critical renown and the support that brings, leading to such gifts as David Bowie coming to do backup vocals for you. But all this could never have produced an album like Dear Science, if it wasn't for something the actual band didn't have that much of a part in doing - the post-production. Wikipedia lists seven people of the production team on this album, including relatively famous pop-producer Mark Stent.
Pop music, if dissected, often reveals a Frankenstein-crafted beast of conflicting drum lines, lyrics, rhythms and synths. And yet, listened to on a whole, is sounds so smooth, so natural, that you can't even see the stitches. The secret is good production. Each part of Dear Science, taken on it's own, seems to clash irreversibly with any other part. It is a miracle of production that all these conflicting musical styles blend together, and yet each one is still noticeable and memorable. This production is like the Magic Bullet.
But it's not like the ingredients produced were particularly difficult to work with. TV on the Radio has been displaying more and more their ability to know how to write a good song. Gone is the more experimental, wild style of the band, willing to craft a song around any interesting idea that popped into their heads - and yes, this will be missed. In its place is a newfound respect for good song structure, development, restraint and subtlety. They alternate between fast songs and slow songs. They come up with clever lyrics and make you work just enough to get them. They pile on layer over layer of brass parts, hand claps, backing vocals and guitar, creating a wonderful depth that almost - almost - begins to approach the realm of Radiohead.
It's a fantastic album built one song at a time, with songs that were built one line at a time, one note at a time. I'd say it was an A for effort, but it's so deserving of an A of its own merits that the gesture would seem insulting. It's an A++++ for effort. And the variety! I said earlier that TV on the Radio had ditched its experimental side, but that's not all true. This album contains rapping like Kweli, soul like Mayfield, new wave like the Talking Heads and blues like some unknown wonderful blues band from beyond the stars. That's seems hugely experimental for an alternative-rock band. But when they do it so well and so confidently, who's experimenting? There was no way it wouldn't have been successful.
There are no weak or sluggish parts on this album; every section seems to have been created to some amazing standard of excellence. However, standout parts still remain. "Dancing Choose", probably the band's most successful song to date, having preformed it on The Colbert Report, Letterman and likely some others that I don't watch. It's catchy, high-energy fun with an interesting message and clocks in at just the right length. "Golden Age" is another favourite of critics at large, and it's easy to see why. It's amazingly well put together, building and backing away, taunting at its climax before fully coming to fruition. Not sure how I managed to write that so erotically but whatever.
My personal favourite on the album is "Family Tree". It manages to pull of that wonderful combination of a deep, melancholy, near-depressing, introspective song that still has an incredibly catchy chorus. TV on the Radio might be headed straight for number one if they stay on this road, or they could easily swerve again, and no matter which is actually better for the band, they'll be worth following. They might even be the next Radiohead!