Nearly six years after the release of their last album, Iran, the original project of TV on the Radio guitarist Kyp Malone, is faced with a markedly different musical landscape. Aside from changes in sound and style, the band must confront the fact that they’ve effectively become a side project. Iran tackles this situation by expanding their sound, cleaning up the rough edges while still attempting to remain faithful to their earlier aesthetic.
Iran and The Moon Boys were both loose, wooly albums; Dissolver works less in this vein, skewing more toward straightforward pop than experimentation, but it still makes a consistent effort to get its hands dirty and keep them that way. Yet for all the brief forays into sonic disorder, there’s a direct and almost total adherence to traditional compositions, scaling back the limits of earlier material, which seemed to spill over the boundaries of the pop mold rather than be contained within them. This makes for a comfortable but unsurprising collection of songs, ones that let loose in the form of measured guitar solos and Malkmus-inspired lyrical digressions courtesy of lead singer Aaron Aites.
This neater, clearer sound is not necessarily a change for the worse, but it makes the occasional dips into more shambolic territory (the extended, distorted outro to “Cape Canaveral/Buddy (Reprise),” for example) seem a little too coordinated. This part-time dedication to the band’s formerly more wild sound ends up feeling obligatory, most namely in “Digital Clock and Phone,” a four-minute piddle of static and beeps that seems like an attempt to concentrate all that unrestrained madness in one place.
Otherwise, Dissolver is a solidly catchy, guitar-driven jaunt, finding equal time for fuzzy rock progressions and slowly sketched, shimmering landscapes. At times the latter element feels reminiscent of TVOTR, especially in instances where the guitar dominates and the vocals drop out. “I Can Feel What” feels doubly familiar with the addition of Malone’s backing vocals and sounds at times like an exact replica of his other band. These moments, however, are rare enough that their appearance only highlights how different a band Iran is from its more famous counterpart, and Dissolver, though not as creatively refreshing as may have been expected, is entirely its own album.