TV On the Radio is one of those is rarest and most precious in contemporary music -- they actually possess creativity, talent, and an earthy musical power.
And if their brilliant sophomore album was a dense exploration of a "Cookie Mountain," then their third album is a dance-filled festival of colour and vivacious song. "Dear Science" sounds like TV on the Radio has stepped back from their more intense work, decided to have some fun with their music, and whipped the same sounds into a dancier, warmer album. And it works brilliantly.
They warm up with the thumping, breathless post-rock of "Halfway Home," an ever-building cloud of subtle instrumentation and mellow vocals. It's very reminiscent of the band's prior work, and serves as a bridge to their new sound. And it soon becomes evident that the band is not just trying to get a catchy single on the radio -- they rush through the funk-jazzy warmth of "Crying" and the delightfully wild electro-funk of "Dancing Choose," which sounds like the band got pumped full of caffeine.
Then they try all sorts of other songs -- wild dancy electro-funk, slow wistful jazz-ballads, the string-laden post-rock of, hip-hoppy rock numbers strung with golden keyboard, and even a mellow, soulful jazzy-electro ballad ("Lonely the love dog that/no one knows the ways of"). And it finishes up with a trio of stunningly unpolished dance songs -- the blazing, fast-moving "Shout Me Out," the swirlingly bleak "DLZ" and finally the dense uplifting thicket of "Lover's Day."
The absolute peak of all this the organic beats and funky rhythms of "Golden Age," as Tunde Adebimpe whispers suitably offbeat lyrics in a high-pitched voice. But then the tight electro-funky song blooms into a great sweeping mass of movie-musical-style trumpets and epic strings, still saturated with a funky beat and joyous cries of "Oh it's a miracle... and there's a golden age/coming round, coming round, COMING ROOOOOOUUNNNDDD..."
Few bands are able to take all the elements of their music, mix it up in a blender, and then reconstruct them in a completely different -- but equally brilliant -- way. "Dear Science" would be a brilliant album just taken on its own merits, but the enormity of what TV on the Radio was able to do with their distinctive sound makes it even more mind-blowing.
In a sense, their music is both darker and more entertaining -- we get plenty of solid guitar work, ranging from buzzing postrock riffs to a blazing rock'n'roll drive, as well as a sweeps of movie-style strings, a powerful horn section that blazes out in songs like "Lover's Day," dancy beats, and the unstoppable webs of ever-shifting synth that snare your ear like a spiderweb. Though they're more confident and assured than ever, they still have that rough edge that keeps the poppiest song from sounding, you know, studio-polished.
Tunde Adebimpe has a voice like a cup of strong coffee -- it's powerful, organic, and a little bit bitter around the edges. He raps, he croons, he murmurs, he snarls, he sings over the blazing horns. And the lyrics he sings, while not quite the most focused work they've done, are still brilliantly meaty stuff that spans everything from death to newspaper men, love dogs to forbidden love ("Alone in the ceiling/ours is a feeling/not that they would see/they don't know that we could be/the million cradles in the sea...")
"Dear Science" is brilliant example of just how far TV on the Radio's talents go -- they can change their entire style and yet sound like no one but themselves.