One of the most striking things about TV On The Radio's 2006 opus Return To Cookie Mountain was one of its very first sounds: a mysterious sample that could have been a warped orchestral blast, the mellifluous din of a building collapse, or the mating call of a brontosaurus. That sound set the tone for a hurricane of an album whose mystery was made to unravel over the span of a hundred listens. Its subtlety came, almost incongruously, from an overabundance of great ideas, rather than the refinement of one in particular. On Dear Science, TVOTR finds a more traditional consistency, transmuting that dirty experimentalism into a lush cleanliness that eases—rather than hurls—its songs into the art-making ether.
It's a turnoff at first, but beauty becomes this band, whether it's the bare-bones sort (as on 2003's Young Liars EP) or as expansive as Dear Science. "Halfway Home" opens the disc with the packed-in punk of the Cookie Mountain single "Wolf Like Me," but soon evolves into a taut, glassy piece of Peter Gabriel bigness. The breezy exhale of "Crying" stands atop a tightly edited drum loop and well-placed curlicues of guitar and horn. On "Dancing Choose," Tunde Adebimpe raps in a frantic jag, but lets up to give way to an even-keeled chorus. It's as if TVOTR (or in-band producer David Sitek) has learned to compartmentalize its myriad bits: The grit and pulse come from Afrobeat flourishes and percussion that pops ("Golden Age," "Red Dress"); the epic overtones arrive on swells of strings or washes of guitar ("Stork & Owl," "Family Tree"); and the fantastic complementary croons of Adebimpe and Kyp Malone finally stand at the forefront of the songs.
Organized chaos is a wonderful thing unto itself, but there's much to be said for simply pretty, and TV On The Radio says it here. Even so, if Cookie Mountain was a cyclone, Dear Science is the eye, and something truly nasty waits on the other side.