March 31, 2004

TV On The Radio "Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes"

TV On The Radio is another one of those groups. With a mere 5-song EP under their belts- released on Touch & Go no less-they’ve already amassed enough press to sink a well-proportioned yacht. They look cool in publicity photos. And having done production work with “hip” groups like Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, they’ve got “roots” in the “happening” Williamsburg art-punk scene. Sounds like a recipe for success (or disaster, depending on whom you ask).

Even if TV On The Radio didn’t have a shred of talent, chances are you still would have heard of them by now. With their blend of gospel, IDM, doo-wop, and straight-forward indie-rock playing in tandem with a fascinating employment of electronics, TV On The Radio manage to slay the competition and, in the process, concoct an unmistakable sound. Add the powerful and often-moving vocals of Tunde Adebimpe to the jumble and you’ve got one of the most original groups working the American underground to date. Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes mines the same territory as the aforementioned EP and seems to come across more as an extension of Young Liars rather than a bold new direction. The songs remain simultaneously dense and inviting; with the instrumentation usually providing the backdrop with opaque atmospherics and resonant, electronic tones, while Adebimpe’s soulful tenor handles the frequently infectiously gorgeous melodies.

Nine almost unnervingly taut compositions comprise Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes and not a minute of these could be construed as filler. Equal parts vulnerable and detached, the first three songs on the record set the mood perfectly- not terribly upbeat, but at the same time, not utterly hopeless, the anxious shuffle of the album’s opener “The Wrong Way”, the infectious dirge of “Staring At The Sun” and the oblique “Dreams” (picture what might happen if the Pixies and Peter Gabriel- to whom Adebimpe has often been compared- started playing Spirit of Eden-era Talk Talk covers with Autechre’s equipment). “Ambulance” is a unique take on the familiar topic of a relationship set against an exquisite doo-wop arrangement. Adebimpe pleads with his subject, “I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast” while he and his partners in crime- David Sitek and Kyp Malone- belt out poignant harmonies. Each successive song, while unquestionably wedded to the same style, somehow finds a way to bring something new to the table, whether it be the murky atmospherics of “King Eternal”, the hypnotic drone of “Poppy” or the incessant indie-soul of “Don’t Love You”.

After eight tracks of varying musical and lyrical intensity, the album manages to end on a comparatively lively note with “Wear You Out”. Beginning with a sparse melody hammered out on a clean electric guitar and shuffling digital percussion, Adebimpe and Malone implore in a moving harmony for a love interest to “break it down”, the track steadily escalates with electronic gizmos, percussion, and flute and sax all vying for breathing room. The proceedings reach epic heights as Adebimpe and Malone coo expressively, ‘let me wear out’ while the production becomes a dense muddle of fascinating textures. The song begins to slow down and, once it’s all over, I feel almost as if a catharsis of some sort was reached.

The underlying difference between these guys and most of the groups they might consider their peers is that TV On The Radio actually have something new and surprisingly potent to say. They take enough from the past 50 years of popular music to make their tunes sound surprisingly familiar, but TV On The Radio seem utterly resolute in refusing to allow the past consume them. Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes isn’t simply a promising release-- it’s a monster record that will prove difficult to follow--but I have a feeling these fellas won’t have all that much trouble doing so. In short, this writer’s prediction is that Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is merely a taste of even better things to come.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

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