by SashaS

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  More on: TV On The Radio

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  Album Review - 23-5-2005
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Take head, something different is in the vicinity. TV On The Radio is the name of this New York crew that challenges many a concept what a current act can [and more often - can‘t] do in today’s climate of all-restrictive reality, arts, culture… The album [proper, they had a mini-one, ‘Young Liars’, at the end of summer 2003], ‘Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes’, is wacky, baaad, anti-PC, potentially controversial [it depends on liberty of your views] and overflowing with musical ideas.

Basing itself on a mutant sound, this sonic broth contains funky, avant, dancey, improv, WorldMusicy, barbershop quartet, electronic, do-wop, percussive, jazz, psychedelic, ingredients; it could also be described as insistent, engaging, unhinged, intense, unorthodox, primal, thought-provoking, subversive, counter-trendy… Its reference points are as much Peter Gabriel as Primus, Can and The Residents, Gang of Four and Adam & The Ants, Buckethead and Modey Lemon…

But live, they are more antagonistic, contentious, fiercer, dynamic, more - although they deny it - rocktastic… It is the strain of rock that has more in common with Pere Ubu than Rage Against The Machine, although they unleash the same power as the sadly missed agit-rockers. Many a reference point - ethnic factor is almost erased bar some tribal drumming - are missing in favour of immediacy and instant rapport.

The sell-out crowd goes mental the moment the band appears onstage and without wavering, for some 80 minutes we feel captured/caught/lost - happily, let’s clarify - in this sonic maze, a jungle that surprises with every next turn of a tone… Bassist does his best Miles Davis impersonation by playing with his back to the audience while sounding like the true disciple of Larry Graham [of Family Stone], there is an instrument swap (guitar for drums, David Sitek and Jaleel Bunton, respectively), and a human beatbox by [again] Sitek…

Sound riot is magical for the post-anything… TotR are an opposition to the pop-moulds and puppets, their ambition should be to explode the underground in your face and take over the impotent charts! It is a utopian notion but an alternative worth noting down on your schoolbooks. Forget the rest of the NYC scene, the yesteryear sounding idols, this lot and !!! [partially New Yorkers - their album is dropped next week also] are the bands worth keeping a keen ear on.

David Sitek, also producer of the band [as well as behind the controls on Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums] is a raconteur full of opinions and hijacks our talk for few lengthy monologues. All the time rubbing a lump into near-dust particles before loading it into a spliff that could turn any horse into a Pegasus.. ‘Flatbush green’’s influence on music?

“It does influence it, no doubt,” Sitek admits readily, “but how much, I don’t know. Is it more than caffeine, sugar or any other additive? Addictive? Our chemistry is being altered daily but without the smoke, when producing a record, I’d not be able to listen to as many times to a song as I have to. It is a magic elixir for music production.”

“In this crap old world that is falling apart, it provides me with moments of sanity. Music and weed, go together like USA and violence.”

What keeps you saner, music or dope?

“I’ve never tried one without the other… But, it is not all sex, drugs and Rock’n’Roll: not so much sex and I try to stay away from Rock’n’Roll. Production is what I do and it is very strange that I’m over in Europe doing press because I’m never allowed to talk with the media. They [other members] are afraid I’d say some f**ked up shit.”

[He did but we’ll spare us a lot of trouble by keeping it between the two of us and the tape.]


Sitek formed the band after meeting singer and lyricist Tunde Adebimpe - an NYU film student specialising in strop-frame animation - back in 2000; the Brooklyn lot were then joined by guitarist Kyp Malone [also a provider of sweet falsetto harmony vocals], bassist Gerrard Smith and drummer Jaleel Bunton.

“The new album is a strange one and there is so much going on that you need to listen to it several times before you start realising what the lyrics are all about. Like with a lot of records that influenced me, I’d be really glad if people return to our record as their life changes; if the dynamics pick up, then you revisit it with different ears. The first thing that comes to mind is Neil Young and some songs that mean something to you until your life goes through different filters…”

“You then realise why an album was put together that way and then you are aware of its perspective… Artists usually don’t know what an album is all about except in hindsight. Like ‘Dream’, it is a hefty combination of production that embraces all musical styles with vocals… I reckon we are predominantly vocal group and this is a phenomenal band to work with.”

Some people may say that you are paranoid, anti-patriotic and, even, treacherous? Do you really think that general public would even bother to ruminate over the smartness of the band’s name?

“They can say what they want and think, or not, accordingly. 2004 will be remembered as the year of total absence of content, times without people’s voice… If Bob Dylan was in his 20s right now, if Bob Marley wasn’t, I believe, killed or if (Peter) Tosh wasn’t shot 63 times… What would they be doing? It’s the youth that you should be ashamed of, the American youth who don’t rebel at all…”

“They don’t do it because they are high on Prozac and believe television. Look what social activists are competing with - advertising! People believe that without something advertised, they’d be missing on life… And, it is not a very free place for ‘The Land of the Free’. The language has to change and all the PC-ing is wrong for this period.”

“I can do whatever I want producing this band and they trust me implicitly; sometime they don’t believe how they sound on the record… When I’m producing TV on the Radio, they embrace all my eccentricity. I hate bands in a room when I’m mixing because I am usually in my underwear, smoking a lot of pot.”

Spector's shade[s]

Eccentrics, sadly, in retreat for a while, do we detect shades of the legendary Phil Spector?

“I don’t own a pistol yet… I have incredible respect for that man; liking him or not as a person, the man’s produced the whole genre of music in a very short period of time. I do model a lot of what I do on him, like not being afraid to drop a bad idea.“

“I’m astonished by the amount of people who are such clichés… The entertainment industry is full of it; you know, art is not being pushed, entertainment is. That opens up another can of warms of - how many unqualified people are in charge of this game? Reagan’s administration provoked a lot of punk bands, politically charged and united against him. Now, we have Bush, who is Reagan-squired or cubed, he is an enemy but all the bands are singing about are about girl problem…”

“For me, this is a flare from a sinking ship… We need a great protest figure but it has become so conservative that whatever little is said, it is heard a long way. It is really insane and a lot of people are just obeying the official line, public… It’s pathetic, tragic, screwed up situation that you can see a pile of dead Iraqi bodies but can’t see Janet Jackson’s tit?! It drives me crazy! I’d rather see a million breasts than one dead body or a bomb hitting a village full of children.”

“Most of the people are in entertainment industry to get attention, which they didn’t have it when they were kids/teenagers, or to make money. Such ‘artists’ are underestimating the intelligence of listeners by providing music that has no content and no risks. TV on the Radio’s fan base is probably solely based on the fact that we sound different. People listen and say, ‘Wow, they are not Jet!’… I hope they say so because I hate that band.”

“Manufactured bands are not the mouthpiece for anything and with books dying out, art is the only true way to document the present because the books will all be re-written by the governments. You can’t change the face of ‘Mona Lisa’… Even if the officials would be saying that everything was okay in 2004, there was a record like ours? People would be questioning why we sing ‘All your dreams are over now’ or ‘Children in Liberia getting hands chopped off over diamonds’?”.

“I’m very disappointed with most people in the industry for not addressing the relevant subjects but singing about money or girl problem. Respect is earned and, as a listener, I’m actually very disturbed about it. You don’t have to be overtly political but at least don’t be the same as everybody else, hiding from reality, .”

“Books will be written revising history but arts, and music especially, should be truthful,” David Sitek states firmly.

“We bring message to the people,” he concludes as finally fires up the laced roll-up.

[Originally published 03 June 2004]

TV on the Radio’s album ‘Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes’ is released 07 June 2004 by 4AD