TV on the Radio gave some serious reinvention to indie rock, with their debut "Desperate Youth Blood Thirsty Babes." Then they sort of dropped off for awhile, apparently to tinker with their future sound.
Well, "Return to Cookie Mountain" is an evolution of what they've done before -- the art-rock sound, the grimy electro, and the rough edges that don't need polishing.This isn't quite "there" enough to be their masterpiece, but TV on the Radio is definitely sounding wonderfully mature.
It starts off with the year's best intro -- drum beats, clashes, and an offbeat horn symphony that cuts itself off, before repeating again. As the jagged electronic beats come on, Tunde Adepimbe begins to croon, "I was a lover/before this war... I'm locked in my bedroom/so send back the clowns..." It's a bittersweet song with a warm, rich feeling.
The closest thing they have to typical rock is the heart-pounding "Wolf Like Me," with its howled bridges and eerie feeling, and the expansive, tinkling, explosive "Playhouses." There's also the rustling, stomping art-rock of "Let the Devil In," the swirling electro-rock, the soul-rock, and the epic bass-rock of the finale "Wash the Day Away."
Don't expect TV on the Radio to really rock out in "Return to Cookie Mountain," since they got recognition for their equally dense debut. The songs that follow are too grandiose, too looped, and too dense to be toe-tappers. The only real flaw is their tendency to sometimes neglect music in place of atmosphere -- although even their failures are fascinating.
And that atmosphere is of a dangerous, beautiful place -- campfires, tribal dances, wild animals and flying over mountains. The repetitive drums, bass and more typical instruments are loaded down with flutes, samples, electronic beats, mellotron, cymbals. It's all tangled into a series of loosely-strung, hypnotic melodies that seem to swirl around on themselves.
But the most hypnotic instrument is the vocals. Adepimbe can be deep and soulful, desperate howls, or higher and soaring; either way, he hasn't got the typical disinterested rock voice. And the jumbled, colourful lyrics are hard to make out at times, and eventually they simple become another repetitive pattern in the music.
TV on the Radio have one-upped themselves with "Return to Cookie Mountain," and yet there's a feeling of unfulfilled promise, hinting that they'll get even better as time goes on.