Sunday, March 7, 2010
Recently, Metacritic.com named Spoon the band of the decade, based on a number of arbitrary criteria that don't seem to have a whole lot to do with the music Spoon released and supported by my friend Hugh at Warm Sound, Aqueous Transmission. I don't much care for Spoon, so I've decided to defend my own pick for band of the decade, TV on the Radio. I've decided to start with a review of their second album, “Return to Cookie Mountain.” Though TVotR (as they will henceforth be referenced) released an excellent EP (“Young Liars”) and an full-length record (“Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes”) in 2003 and 2004 respectively, their sound did not reach its deserved fruition until “Return” was issued in 2006.
TVotR's unique combination of funk, rock, and electronic elements is more fully explored in this second album, largely due to the explosive production of David Sitek. Though the band employs diverse instrumentation and unique lyrics, “Return” features a broad, epic sound that is almost entirely unheard of in the realm of indie music, which relies so frequently on instrumental minimalism and stripped-down production. The synthesized soundscape of “Province” provides an early indicator of the album's musical color, featuring the elegantly harmonized vocals of Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone over an expansive background of electronic sound. “Hours,” meanwhile, represents the best vocal melody on the album, where Adebimpe regretfully states, “You listened for the truth/ Just too bad they lied.” The song's mournful, dirgelike vocal bridge highlights Adebimpe and Malone as perfect vocal counterparts; the album plays on this interchange through its duration, and it remains one of the record's greatest strengths.
Instrumentally, “Return to Cookie Mountain” benefits greatly from the addition of a live drummer in Jaleel Bunton, whose percussive skills provide a sense of groove that was strikingly absent on TVotR's previous releases. Bunton's work finds ways to remain relevant over the constant barrage of melodic instrumentation, most powerfully so on the frenzy of “Dirtywhirl” and in the churning grind of the album's closer, “Wash the Day.” However, no song on “Return to Cookie Mountain” finds a better balance of musical ferocity and lyrical presence than on the album's brilliant centerpiece, “Wolf Like Me.” The song's primal beat feels like a chase through the wilderness, paralleled by the deranged intensity of Adebimpe's vocals. The terror in his voice betrays a savage honesty; when he confesses, “My heart's aflame,/ my body's changed, but god I like it,” you're forced to believe him. Malone's late entrance into the song is a conciliatory decree: “We're howling forever,” he cries. The end result of these elements is undoubtedly the best song on the album, and a strong candidate for best song of the decade. With the whole of “Return to Cookie Mountain” revolving around the song as an emotional anchor, one can't help but feel that TVotR is a band striving to illustrate a universal torment caged in the intricate rhythms and broad progressions of their music. The result is an excellent album, almost certainly the year's best, and a candidate for best of the decade.