Review Summary: TV on the Radio constructs a sound neither set in any pre-conceived genre or idea
It’s easy to trace an artist’s body of work to his/her background and influential upbringing, it is almost emblematic. It is also easy to find these visible influences and background in the framework of the artist’s work. In the case of TV on the Radio, it comes to no surprise that the band’s core is composed of ambitious artists in many different fields. With this ambition and visionary scope equipped, encompassing post-punk, soul, and other left-field genres and post-something’s, it should only make sense that the core of the group are artists in both mediums of visual art and music. This is a rare example of defining the artful meditative thoughts into the edges of the band’s music; ambition not quite seen embodied so well. With the release of TV on the Radio’s Young Liars
in 2003, the blueprint had been set in terms of the band’s willingness to create a truly distinctive and amorphous sound; a sound neither set in any pre-conceived genre or idea.
Despite the fact that the band's origins are held in North America, this commonality would not be so easy to deduce otherwise. The 5 track EP is difficult to pigeonhole based on any sort of city atmosphere to serve as its primary influence. The songs here all take cues from noxious and disparate genres as soul, electronica, post-rock, accappela, film music, and even African vocal music; TV on the Radio sounds like nothing out there. Though this may be a statement made as frequent as water falling from a tap, TV on the Radio is one of the few bands that is able to truly validate this statement; instead of being tagged with other similarly labeled bands labeled by the music press. Pure atmosphere is carried and weighed down onto the backbone of the record’s musical framework as Dave Sitek acts as a sonic sculptor, tweaking certain sounds and cramming them all into the wonderfully languid and meditative atmosphere. The heavy reliance on atmosphere is a tactic induced by the production of the record which is alienated and detached from each different sound; giving each dizzying sound and idea a room to breathe. On the opener “Satellite”, a frantic and epileptic rhythm bursts out from the speakers under a subtle wave of droning synths as Tunde Adebimpe’s melancholic voice sings with a soulful grace not quite seen by other vocalists. Adebimpe’s range and tonal clarity is a gem in indie rock; a vocalist who knows how to actually sing. “Satellite”’s redeeming and enchanting quality is the isolated guitars and the frantic rhythm that seems almost ripped out of a hardcore song, giving the song a soaring and triumphant quality.
The aforementioned atmospheric leanings that are so noticeable in the band’s evolving sound are seen most unmistakably in the album highlight “Blind”. A brooding piece, “Blind” embodies all the necessary qualities of an epic, without relying on any climax or ridiculously prolonged song-length. Still, even with the song stretching to seven minutes, it is able to cram as many beautiful and bewildering sounds all without sacrificing Adebimpe’s incredible vocal performance; wrapping all of these elements into a tightly knit and cohesive package that is beautiful, dark, atmospheric and evocative. Adebimpe’s achingly earnest vocals make lyrics like “I seen a girl/With a guy/With hair like yours”
and “From what I remember/Been so long since last December”
seem like poetry, allowing the listener to agree that indeed, it’s been so long since last December. “Staring At the Sun” is set in motion immediately as an 80’s dance record b-side, with Adebimpe’s frighteningly agonized falsetto propelling it toward a heavenly level, giving Young Liars
an added dose of diversity and also giving it multiple facets.
Sitek’s work on the EP must not be criminally understated here. Sitek’s brilliant production here adds an undertow of spiritually artificial atmosphere that gives the whole EP a futuristic and dystopian outlook sans the over-the-top electronica influences. Dave Sitek’s balancing act is the redeeming feature to the record’s cohesiveness; without this Young Liars
would only seem as overly-ambitious. Instead, Young Liars
is a natural product of the band’s diverse and disparate influences that is able to be pooled into a satisfying concoction that is organic and experimental; without dipping its toes into the foreseen territory of deliberate eclecticism. "Mr. Grieves" sets itself apart from the rest of the EP's atmosphere, instead incorporating an entirely different one that is strangely meek and humble, with the distinction between the Pixies intact with its wonderful acappela and vocalization. In this respect, Mr. Grieves is also Young Liars’
most representative track; demonstrating the band’s obvious choice to avoid any obvious alleyway’s to musical creativity, ambition, and innovativeness. This easily makes Young Liars more than satisfying and an excellent EP that set the blueprint for a band that did not allow a major label to obstruct the band’s ambition.