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  TV on the Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

 

Touch & Go, 2004

Rating: 4.3

 

   

TV on the Radio: Young Liars [EP]

Touch & Go, 2003

Rating: 4.2

 

 

Posted: March 12, 2004

By Laurence Station

On its 2003 debut EP Young Liars, TV on the Radio -- which at the time was comprised of vocalist Tunde Adebimpe and multi-instrumentalist/producer David Andrew Sitek -- managed to stake out an identifiable sound across an expanse of genres including post-punk, '50s doo-wop and classic soul. Adebimpe's anguished falsetto and Sitek's creative programming created an effortless mesh that produced five impressively inventive tracks.

The blueprint is laid out in the brooding, densely layered opener "Satellite:" Adebimpe's riveting vocals, veering toward the edge of melodrama but pulling back at the last possible instant thanks to a soulful earnestness that validates his often lovelorn words ("I am an undertow"); Sitek's samples weaving in an out of a chaotic, white-noise background, interjecting discordant tones and caffeinated beats. "Staring at the Sun" features a manic, skittering rhythm and fuzzed-out drone as Adebimpe (aided, as he is throughout most of the disc, by guest vocalist Katrina Ford) wrestles with suicidal thoughts. On "Blind," Sitek toys with electronic surfaces for a cold, detached feel, Adebimpe encapsulating their moody tone with the lyric "My life is a sucker bet." The title track's spiritual, spacious vibe meshes nicely with questing, fiery lyrics that serve as a sermon to no one in particular -- the rant of a bitter man. The closing "Mister Grieves," a breezy, finger-snapping reconfiguration of the swaggering, staggering Pixies original, finds TV on the Radio staking its claim not just to the future but to the past as well, thanks to some playful harmonizing and resourceful use of laid-back bass.

Needless to say, the band's follow-up and full-length debut Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes has a fairly high bar to clear. Perhaps realizing this, Adebimpe and Sitek bring guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone into the fold (as well as a host of guest musicians) to help flesh out an already fulsome sound. "The Wrong Way" impressively kicks things off, with Adebimpe challenging those in the black community to put down the bling and concentrate on solving ingrained societal ills, as angry horns break through a fuzzy curtain of sound. "Poppy," the album's centerpiece, is an ebullient paean to love, spelled out against a rumbling, electrified backdrop. The flipside to this euphoria is the caustic, bitter "Don't Love You," in which Adebimpe sounds as embittered and distrustful as he was ecstatic and thankful one song prior. It's a nice pairing, emphasizing TV on the Radio's willingness to embrace and subvert common notions of the well-worn love/breakup rock-n-soul template by riffing on both in such perilously close proximity.

Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes extends and refines both the lyrical smarts and programmatically adventurous nature of Young Liars. The beats are deeper, the harmonies are more intricate (especially evident on the otherwise tepid "Ambulance"), and the thematic concerns confront weightier matters like war ("Bomb Yourself"). The closing "Wear You Out" aptly sums up the tendency for TV on the Radio to overplay its hand, droning on toward the end when a less-is-more approach would have proven more effective. But this is a minor infraction. Music that so impressively cross-pollinates genre and race lines deserves to be championed. The smart money is on a slam-dunk masterwork next time out for this talented trio.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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