TV On The Radio
Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
o what end is one independent music band different from any other–and why does the listener care so much as to consummate an active listener-musician relationship with that band, invoke them publically in conversation, and visit them in the private moments when the appropriate record can enhance the magnitude of what they feel? My relationship with music–usually characterized by an unabashed love for albums, though sometimes individual songs–is maybe the most naked thing about me I nevertheless keep vulnerable to my acquaintances. As with all pop music, independent music is essentially but a string of memorable lyrics, hooks, rhythms. And so, it would seem that the listener’s basis for preference is determined not so much by the differences between bands (As they are usually negligible and often shared by bands within the same genre), but by the experiences the sounds recall. No matter that all pop songs, listened to with an undiscerning ear, all feature the same dispassionate singing, arbitrary lyrics, and mechanically played melodies; it would seem as though contrary to the music affecting how we feel, what we feel affects how the music sounds to us.
TV on the Radio’s debut record, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is a brave statement of artistic indulgence–and a total reversal of the passivity that colors much independent music. Comprised of vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, instrumentalist Kyp Malone, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs producer David Andrew Sitek, the group’s stoic posturing is neither static nor forced; like David Bowie’s Station to Station or Peter Gabriel’s So, TV on the Radio make music that demands to be listened to actively, as for the listener to absorb the lethal amounts of heartbreak, dignity, and mystery in the human voice. A surprising, frequently successful collision between a capella music, Afro-spiritual vocals, and dense electronic textures, the record dares to espouse a sound without any fashionable aesthetic (Unless passionate delivery could be considered an aesthetic, in which case, they fit into their niche quite nicely), or pretentious effrontery.
The hyper-real production of the EP is stripped down here to sound drier, more sparse. The effect may be a matter a preference (Initial response to the album seemed to be mostly uniform yowls of protest in regards to the removal of Young Liars’ dense, quavering textures), but the arid, suffocating atmosphere of the record better suits the songs on it. Album-opener "The Wrong Way" opens with clusters of horns knotting together tightly to form a rhythmic unit. Sitek gradually overlays stuttering electronic accents over the horns, heightening the sense of claustrophobia and despair in Adebimpe’s lyrics. Though it’s not impossible to imagine a Young Liars version of "The Wrong Way," with the horns smothering Adebimpe’s fragile vocal melodies and distorted sound oozing from every silent space, it wouldn’t be prudent; the songs on Desparate Youth, though less immediate than those on the EP, are more artfully put together, and therefore require a more delicate production technique. Case in point: "Dreams," which builds itself around Adebimpe’s hypnotic repetition of the mantra "All your dreams are over now." By merit of its restrained, dynamic production, "Dreams" is an elegant slab of slow-burning melodrama that surrenders–in one of the record’s most cathartic moments–to a storm of furious noise.
If Desparate Youth has a problem, it’s its willingness to run with the praise critics gave the EP for co-opting Barbershop music and spiritual hymnals, and running it into the ground to no avail. "Poppy" and "Ambulance"’s over-reliance on choral breakdowns and sometimes grating over-emoting belie the bands immense melodic talents, and could be misconstrued as a misappropriation of culturally sensitive music. In addition to these short-comings, the band’s hypnotic, lengthy song structures show a band too confident that the listener is willing to surrender themselves to the repetitious concourse of their melodies; and, as mentioned earlier in the review, the album’s consciously airless/antiseptic nature may alienate those who vainly attempt to acquaint themselves to the band’s shifty, moody presence.
But we as listeners, should be glad to have a group that for once instigates the listener-musician relationship for us, that forces us to respond to their volatile, emotional nature with questioning and imperious minds. Whether it stirs indignation in response to its willfully evasive nature or hones TV on the Radio a legion of fans with its base portrayal of the lovesick human condition, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is a flawed, but ultimately remarkable debut.
Reviewed by: Eric Seguy
Reviewed on: 2004-03-04