TV On The Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

TV On The Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

Whatever the current name is for music that combines the edginess of the avant-garde with the mindless rush of pop, the scene's machine is still fueled, as it has been for the last 20 years, by writers, record-store clerks, and devoted fans who demand near-constant novelty. Consequently, musicians can become cult favorites based solely on promise and rumor. The New York art-punk group TV On The Radio was ridiculously hyped prior to the release of last year's Young Liars EP, mainly because guitarist David Sitek and singer Tunde Adebimpe run in the same circles as Liars and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Young Liars only raised the band's stature, since its loose, fuzzy fusion of Peter Gabriel, Pere Ubu, and Brian Eno offered three influences rarely referenced in 2003. The group's full-length debut, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, is even better, which should make frontline tastemakers breathe a sigh of relief, assuming they haven't already started chasing their next ghost. TV On The Radio's ace is Adebimpe, whose urgent vocal performance sounds slyly bluesy and in sync with his and Sitek's dense urban soundscapes. On Desperate Youth, Adebimpe coos and growls along with himself (and with alternate singer-guitarist Kyp Malone), guiding the band's songs through open-ended structures that build vertically, adding and subtracting layers rather than moving through conventional melodic changes. TV On The Radio makes music that's rhythmic but not really danceable, and harmonic without being hooky. The group plays haunted on "Dreams," tribal on "King Eternal," and like some kind of skeletal barbershop quartet on "Ambulance"; by placing those three songs in consecutive order, it maps out a whole environment of primal community music updated for the age of the terror alert. But though Desperate Youth is dotted with lyrics about death sentences, accident scenes, self-destruction, and corporeal decay, the album's strength lies in its faintly hopeful tone—and not just the hope that a band this aggressively touted can rise to the challenge of moving rock forward. Adebimpe sings about shared anxieties and human need, and his powerful voice packs sweet sorrow into lines like "You were my favorite moment / of our dead century." If bands like TV On The Radio keep exploring these new realms of texture, mood, and songcraft, the century won't die so easily.

Filed Under: Music

More Music Review