Few bands have achieved the level of critical praise and rabid fanaticism that TV on the Radio has garnered over its three-album career, rendering the band a pioneer of the art-house canon. What it has established with its Young Liars LP and full-length debut, Desperate Youth, Blood-thirsty Babes, and follow-up, Return to Cookie Mountain, leaves listeners with pretty high expectations, despite arguments among the most elitist of indie rock fans as to whether or not the band has, so far, lived up to its potential. For a band as engaging, interesting, and promising as TVOTR, there’s a lot waging on what they’re capable of delivering.
That being said, its latest LP, Dear Science, can be seen as a sort of extension of 2006’s much-lauded Cookie Mountain. On Science, the band mates fine-tune and streamline what they do best: tweaking, looping and distorting a cacophony of percussion, new-wave synths, guitar noise, dissonance, various electronic textures and devices, and layering them in a grand symphony of sound.
On Science, however, one of the most compelling instruments is Tunde Adebimpe’s affecting voice, as instantly noted in the power-pop opener “Halfway Home,” a song that sets the tone for the aesthetic of the rest of the album. The band is interested in channeling the ’80s, as this album sounds like it’s coming from a more fundamentally soul-pop, dance-floor oriented point of view than the avant-rock that dominated the group’s first couple releases.
“Family Tree” is a stunning ballad about forbidden love, album standout “Red Dress” reeks of dread and self-hatred, “Dancing Choose” features big synths and power chords, “Shout Me Out” sounds raw, repetitive and primal, all indicative of the power of the two lead singers’ melting vocals. “Lover’s Day” is the orchestral closer with lyrics like “Yes of course there are miracles/Under your sighs an moans.” It’s decidedly more pop-based with its dynamic rave-ups and joyful melodies, centered around an experimental/DIY perspective.
It’s funkier pop as opposed to avant-rock; a shift of dance-ready rhythms and synthetic sounds, polyrhythm, billowing vocals, horns and strings. They’re more prone to restrain themselves when necessary this time around, instead of piling on noise for every song, and the result is thrilling, intellectual fireworks.
Science addresses some of the same themes as TVOTR’s most recent LP: dark, post-apocalyptic settings, anger and confusion, all underlined by the counterpoint of hope.
Kyp Malone, co-lead vocalist, in a The New York Times interview, did admit to getting tired of writing depressing, jeremiad anthems and wanting to reach for “the age of miracles, the age of sound,” a utopian world that the song “Golden Age” alludes to.
“I feel like there is power in music and power in words and power in what we put out in the world,” Malone said. Science demonstrates that power, with what is likely to be the band’s most popular album yet.