Buzzed Bands Podcast, Ep. 2 w/ Cold Blood Club

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Return To Cookie Mountain - TV On The Radio

Ski Club has a new reviewer, his name is Tom. Tom and I used to work together at Tower Records. Recently we've been hanging so I asked him to do some reviews. He's leading off with the new TVOTR.

Tom says...

And so it goes. Culture hurdles forward, we are told, more rapidly today than ever, thereby leaving us all perpetually searching for a successor to each previous milestone (millstone?). Six years ago David Sitek walked down the corridor of his apartment building and heard Tunde Adebimpe caterwauling and messing about surreptitiously with sound loops. It seems fair to say that, at the time, no one might have predicted that Sitek’s “eureka” moment would one day lead the two men’s group, TV on the Radio, into a remarkably hostile world of comparisons and weighty expectations such as surrounds that of the group’s newest release, Return to Cookie Mountain. Nevertheless, it happened, and today’s talking point asks the question: is Cookie in fact the 00’s cipher of the musical milestone that was Ok Computer, as its advanced billing has suggested?

Of course, TV on the Radio operates with a guile and sense of humor that the favorite sons of Oxfordshire have never possessed (OK Calculator­!—tee-hee, it still cracks me up). And it would be silly to overlook the fact that TV on the Radio never had an awkward hit-making phase of their career like Radiohead or the Flaming Lips. In fact, TV on the Radio’s outward career trajectory towards pop composition rather than away from it is the real story behind Cookie. Let us consider this comparison for a moment. For example, if you are anything like me, then you have hard time telling the difference of late between Thom Yorke solo recordings and cameos, and actual Radiohead releases. The reason for this resides in the fact that Radiohead (unlike the Lips or Wilco) has been bent on a quest of sonic reduction over the course of the last half-decade. Their’s is now the science of how to make five competent musicians sound like one or two. On the other hand, TV on the Radio’s brief history has witnessed the exact opposite movement! What began as a duo banging on a collection glorified chotskies turned into a songwriting threesome which in turn became a full-fledged fucking rock band. Suddenly, TV on the Radio is another great outfit featuring all the age-old bells and whistles: a great rhythm section, superior guitar players, and fantastic lead singer. Go figure.

Whether buoyed or propelled by this newly-minted classic rock configuration, the songs have never been better. Melodic consistency and simple song craftsmanship become the centerpiece of Cookie in a way that previous TV on the Radio releases only hinted at. This is no loss. For all the talk of their experimental nature, the band was never really much of a vehicle for crazy jazz or noise rock formulations, none of which made up the finest moments of TV on the Radio’s past oeuvre. I am eager to attribute much of the credit for this transition towards professional songcraft to guitar-player Kyp Malone, who appears to be eclipsing Adebimpe and Sitek (who retains his producer’s role) in both compositional quantity and quality. Three out of the four most immediate and compelling tunes are primarily credited to Malone. The heavy-breathing opener, “I Was a Lover,” and the art-rock power-ballad “Province” (both of which benefit greatly from Sitek’s machine-made loop-d-loops and carefully displayed layers of fuzz), as well as the cake-taking “Blues from Down from Here,” are easily the groups three finest moments recorded to date. All that aside, Adebimpe scores huge with the pounding and droning lead single, “Wolf like Me,” exactly the kind of tune one finds oneself playing compulsively on repeat for days. While these are represent the album’s highlights, the rest of Cookie, it remains to be said, is a complete triumph; a thoughtful, sublimely-gorgeous, New York mindfuck. The band’s only return to obnoxious ponderousness is Adebimpe’s “Hours,” which comes on second (thus easily skipped past—if you’re down with that sort of thing). Suffice it to say that lesser albums have elevated groups into serious “America’s greatest living band” discussions.

There is one last reservation I harbor about Cookie, and it is a big one. Sitek’s production is a complete goddamn mess. Really, Cookie is an aural superfund site. Nearly all of its greatest qualities are diminished to the point of ill-recognition, its finest performances sloppily rendered, and most of its humanity seems to have been methodically removed. Throughout the album, each instrument sounds isolated to the point of excess, marching to the click of its own metronome, as though each instrumental take was first plotted by committee on graph paper, and only then committed to the hard drive. Either that, or during mixing it mistakenly occurred to the band that they hadn’t meant to make a pop album at all, and set about detonating such an endeavor after the fact. One way or another, at no point does it sound like five men standing together in the same room. The irony here is that Sitek’s work with groups such as Celebration and Yeah Yeah Yeahs is remarkable because of its lived-in raw power and woofer-to-tweeter audible boom. The consequence of all of this is that Cookie is a great record in spite of its creators’ sonic caprice, and unlike other arty-rock epics, it actually sounds better across a room than through a set of headphones.

Oh, and the words. The words are fantastic, if you read the lyric book that is. In the mix they are totally indecipherable. The greatest lyrical casualty is “Province,” whose gorgeous chorus features Adebimpe, Malone, and err, David Bowie, all singing together “love is the province of the brave,” but in a manner that is indistinguishable from “lobbed in the Providence bus-lane.” Even “Wolf Like Me” becomes a hypnotic spate of consonants and “I liiiike its”—which in the hands of the Rolling Stones would be solid gold—when it could be so much more.

Here’s to Cookie and to so much more: 8 out of 10

Matt says...

Agreed. Have you bought this album yet? Why not? Are you stupid? Possibly the album of the year. Check out "Blues From Down Here" - simply amazing.

9.5 out of 10

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Link w/MP3

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice review! im glad im not the only one who things the muddy mix is a drag.. kinda ruins the whole thing a bit for me to be honest.

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