TV On the Radio Sucks at Marketing

Kyp Malone isn’t exactly sure how to describe his band’s latest release. So we try to do it for him.

TV on the Radio guitarist Kyp Malone is trying to explain the ins and outs of negotiating success as he walks down the street in his hometown of Brooklyn.

"It's what all my friends have been trying for, as long as I can remember," he says of the level of acclaim his band has reached.

Malone understands now that his position remains a struggle: "You're trying to find a balance between creativity and commerce, and there is actually no balance."

TV on the Radio at the Table in the Room in the House...
Michael Lavine
TV on the Radio at the Table in the Room in the House...

Since forming in 2001, TV on the Radio has showcased a penchant for mixing experimental noise with its heart-stirring rock. And on its third album, Dear Science, the group strikes a new accord between the two.

Despite the leaps, Malone says, the recording process was the smoothest the band has experienced so far. But Malone still can't figure out how to talk about it.

"The work is articulated into as succinct a statement as we were capable of making, and yet then we have to go back and try to talk about it over and over again," he says. "I feel like if I wrote a book on effective advertising, I could pepper my words to keep people's interest."

Thankfully, Dear Science can speak for itself. Return to Cookie Mountain, made in the post-Katrina morass of the second Bush administration, pined for simpler times and better days, and Dear Science finds TV on the Radio still politically acute. But the band is also sonically realizing that it can be the good time now.

Guitarist and producer Dave Sitek's trademark buzzsaw guitars cut through opener "Halfway Home," but that telltale noise soon recedes and the band gets down: Hi-hats pop like bacon grease, chicken-scratch guitars abound, and braying horns surround singer Tunde Adebimpe's falsetto on "Crying." By the next song, "Dancing Choose," Adebimpe spits about "a newspaper man [who] gets his ideas from a newspaper stand...and he can't understand that he's not in command/The decisions underwritten by the wallet in his hand" at a feverish clip, a startling change from his usually smooth delivery. Then there's the disco-indebted beats from drummer Jaleel Bunton, handclaps and night-move guitar lines that propel songs like "Red Dress" and "Golden Age." On the latter, just as you think the groove is going to go on forever, strings come to light (scored by bassist Gerard Smith), reflecting new contours of the beat.

Closing song "Lover's Day" is one track Malone is particularly proud of. On it, he sought "to make a song about fucking that is not about conquest and that isn't about straight-up consumption...there's more to the act than just bodies hitting together." Punched-in horns din, a tambourine rattles off in a corner, and the song swells to great proportions. The band riffs off the typical sex song as Adebimpe assuages: "Give me the keys to your hiding place/I'm not gonna tear it apart/I'm gonna keep you weak in the knees/Try and unlock your heart."

The track also unveils the variegated forms of libidinous behavior that get stifled by, as Malone puts it, "this idea of desire [that] is sold to us."

It's an interesting concept to hear from a man who says he wishes he understood advertising better. Sounds like he's got a fairly effective understanding of it after all.

 
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