Their name says it all, really. Unsatisfied with simply putting two-dimensional music on the airwaves, TV On the Radio strives to produce music with the intent of giving just as much depth and subtext as their own personal artwork. Though the move to a major label might have been cause for concern, the band completely quelches fears of selling out with their second full release Return To Cookie Mountain. Made up of vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, instrumentalist David Andrew Sitek, and guitarist Kyp Malone (though none wear their hats exclusively), TV On the Radio do more than keep pace with their Shortlist Prize-winning Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes; they enhance nearly every aspect of their debut, creating an album that is uniquely theirs in the modern scene.
Though unconventionality might be the name of the game for TV On the Radio, it doesn’t strictly define the group. Individual tracks hold to a consistent internal logic, and themes (both literary and auditory) return throughout the album, popping in from time to time as the band sees fit. Though their lyrics are more often than not poetic in their own light, their tones and beats flow over their canvas of sound waves in graceful strokes only fully appreciable after multiple listens. Consider a “rock” song such as “Wolf Like Me” and how it’s only rock in the loosest sense, both the album’s most accessible track and one of its deepest. By allowing each element of the music to come in on its own, the band establishes just how the track will run, only to pack in excess items once the lyrics begin, remove them, and replace them throughout. On top of the exceptional music, TV On the Radio splash the cut with vivid lycanthropic imagery (like Ginger Snaps, but more visceral) and close on a building crescendo that magnifies and imprints that carnal feeling all over the album.
TV On the Radio’s style and versatility allow them to branch out into whatever genre or archetype they choose. Adebimpe’s range is tested throughout the album, and Sitek’s wide-ranging proficiency allows the band to record off-genre tracks like “Blues From Down Here.” Such an updated blues number rubs elbows with experimental works like “I Was A Lover” and more straightforward pop cuts such as “Dirtywhirl,” and yet the album never sounds jagged or untowardly. Similarly, they can seem both sweet (“Province”) and sinister (“Playhouses”) from track to track, but certain elements of their sound—phenomenal percussion, swooping and howling vocal work—make the two tracks feel incredibly complementary.
Far from purely academic, TV On the Radio finds and walks a delicate balance with their sophomore full-length release. Their music is accessible, but what makes the band stand out aside from their “weird” presentation is their refusal to compromise their artistic integrity. Return To Cookie Mountain is hardly recognizable as a pop/rock album because the music is enhanced, not degraded, by Sitek’s layering of subtle yet startling riffs and tessellations. Even when the gentlemen decide that it’s time to strip everything back down (a la “Let The Devil In”), the transition is flawless.