TV on the Radio's 'Science' Channel Rides the Airwaves

Tunde Adebimpe lends superbly textured vocals to the rock quintet's third off-the-news album.
Tunde Adebimpe lends superbly textured vocals to the rock quintet's third off-the-news album. (By Karl Walter -- Getty Images)
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By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TV on the Radio has always ripped its lyrics from headlines, but until now, its anthems could often be as puzzling as your Friday-morning Sudoku. The New York rock quintet has consistently favored ambition over focus, railing against the horrors of Iraq and Katrina with blurry, metallic crescendos that felt too formless to soar.

Now, with America approaching a historic election, a potential depression and plenty of God-knows-what's-next, the band has released its third album, "Dear Science." And here's the good news: It's the masterstroke TV on the Radio has always flirted with -- a tight, buzzing, alchemical pop soundtrack fit for frenzied panic, giddy abandon or both.

Anxiety and jubilation play seesaw over the disc's 11 tracks, the band reconciling its contradictory impulses in a blur of electric fuzz. When lyricists Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone aren't raging against the Bush machine ("Red Dress"), they're bridging generation gaps ("Family Tree") and celebrating carnal ecstasy ("Lover's Day").

Such successes find TV on the Radio nipping at the heels of Radiohead, a band that's always tempered its personal manias with a broader sense of geopolitical anxiety. But where Thom Yorke and company take aim at your brain, TV on the Radio swings for the gut, tapping into a boundless vocabulary of rumbling polyrhythms and snarling synthesizers.

"Red Dress" captures the band at its most scathing (not to mention its most funky). Over a taut Afrobeat cadence, singer-guitarist Malone groans, "[Expletive] your war/'Cause I'm fat and in love and no bombs are falling on me for sure/But I'm scared to death that I'm living a life not worth dying for." Surrounded by bleating horns, razor-wire guitar licks and an avalanche of percussion, his lyrics still manage to slash through.

But Adebimpe is still the band's superior vocalist. Amid the panoply of textures his band mates dish up (everything from horn-section blaze to trip-hop haze), the loveliest sounds on "Dear Science" emanate from Adebimpe's throat. His baritone is clarion, his falsetto warm, and he toggles effortlessly between the two on the winsome ether of "Love Dog," singing, "Patience is a virtue, until its silence burns you."

Some of Adebimpe's best turns come cascading in the form of wordless oohs, ahhs and la-la-las. He opens "Halfway Home," the album's kickoff romp, with a sunshiny "Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba" that evokes Tears for Fears covering the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann." Two minutes later, he and his cohorts have flipped that optimistic melody into a thumping meditation on death.

Yet, despite all the emotional zigzagging, "Dear Science" ultimately provides a sense of relief. Not only is it satisfying to see TV on the Radio finally catching up to its ambition, it's a thrill to witness the band document uncertain times with such certitude.

It's the end of the world as we know it, and they sound fine.

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Dancing Choose," "Halfway Home," "Love Dog," "Red Dress"

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