The TV On The Radio hiatus would be more distressing if its members didn’t keep working together. In a lot of ways, the self-titled debut from Maximum Balloon, a.k.a. TVOTR producer-guitarist Dave Sitek, picks up where 2008’s Dear Science left off. The Brooklyn art-soul collective was drifting ever closer to a shinier, cleaner version of itself. Sitek’s solo material pushes that familiar sound further, ditching those strange blues almost entirely in favor of shocking pinks—radio-ready pop songs featuring a handful of guest vocalists including, of course, TVOTR singers Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone.
The differences and similarities are immediately apparent, as rapper Theophilus London kicks the album off with “Groove Me.” The computer bleeps, horn blurts, and chucka-chucka guitars are all there, but rather than coalescing into a thick wall, they’re spread out and treated as percussion, subtly transmogrified into the stuff of a N.E.R.D. song. “Young Love,” featuring Celebration’s Katrina Ford, borrows its glammy swagger from new wave, even as the Afro-funk bubbles up from below. Little Dragon guests on “If You Return,” a track that leans electro without losing any of that Sitek epic-ness. But by and large, the dark has seeped from the songs.
Occasionally, that darkness is missed. Karen O’s turn on “Communion” is uneventful, but in most cases, brightness becomes Sitek. David Byrne soars over the vibrant “Apartment Wrestling,” and Aku (Dragons Of Zynth) gives Adebimpe’s husky coo a run for its money over the fiery disco of “Tiger.” The record’s only real weakness is what should make it work for radio: There’s nothing unexpected. For better or worse, that’s also what separates Maximum Balloon from TVOTR.