A lot can happen in three years and TV on the Radio now full well just how much things have changed for them as a band. In that time the musical landscape has changed quite considerably, not only in how we consume music, but also how the “band” dynamic has seemly been eradicated. The biggest setback during that time for the band, was the tragic loss of their bassist and longtime friend Gerard Smith. As a band, they’re such a tight unit, and it almost lead them to completley disband. Luckily though they have decided to stick together, and have come out of it with their fifth album Seeds. This changing musical landscape has seen them change their sound, it’s not a dramatic shift, but a progression from their indie rock roots. It is undoubtedly more electronically based this time around, but they haven’t lost their punk rock edge that has always been a staple.
What we get is a more focused and restrained album from the group and one that definitely doesn’t hit the first time and possibly won’t on the second or third time. Gradually, though it takes a hold and a you begin to see the direction they are heading. “Quartz” the album opener does a great job at introducing you to this. With a dissonant ring of strings and bells looped over Tunde Adebimpe’s exhilarating vocal asking “How much do I love you?, How hard must we try?,”. It paints a picture of a dysfunctional relationship and an in and out of love situation. The opener segues into a much more electronically focused number, which showcases some atmospheric synths and ticking drums. The song seems to stay in neutral and never picks up the pace, but isn’t necessarily a bad thing as such.
Regardless, the pace is shortly quickened up with the stand out track on the album “Happy Idiot”. At first listen it seems like a more tongue and cheek version of a breakup song. Adebimpe makes light of how it has been a long way down since he left his romantic ties. As you dig deeper, though the combination of Dave Sitek’s eerie sounds and Adebimpe’s darker lyrics “I’m gonna bang my head to the wall, till I feel like nothing at all” adds an air of despair to the song that gives it a unique disposition. It elevates the track from being a standard indietronica track to a song that has much more substance musically and lyrically.
One of the biggest differences in the album as opposed to some of their previous work is the production. On Seeds, Sitek noticeably covers everything with a coat of polish. On earlier records like the critically acclaimed Return to Cookie Mountain it was their little idiosyncrasies as a group that made them stand out. They wore their hearts on their sleeves from a songwriting point of view, as well the overall production. From Kyp Malone’s fuzz laden guitar to Adebimpe’s vocals that were always bold and unashamed. Things have been pared back on this one, which leads to mixed results.
One of the tracks where this new sense of refinement works, is “Test Pilot” another love letter from Adebimpe. There are remnants here of the old TVOTR as Malone’s beautifully distorted guitar holds the song together. The drums pulsate throughout the track giving the song a steady meter, leaving room for the delicate guitars and synths to breath. Adebimpe delivers a somber vocal that is full of heartbreak and one that is in tune emotionally with the rest of the song. Malone’s falsetto near the final stanza is a nice touch, which solidifies the track as the emotional core of the album.
Few other songs on the album bare this same sensitivity and instead take things in a different direction. “Ride” is a 6 minute stomper which starts out with a beautiful piano prelude accompanied by strings. What follows is an upbeat number that is a different TVOTR than we are used to. It boasts an infectious chorus that shows they’re not afraid to show off their pop side. In contrast, “Lazerray” is a shot of adrenaline that harks back to their earlier days with it’s punk rock influence.
As an album, it solidifies their move away from their indie rock beginnings and sees their more anthemic rock angle come to fruition. There are elements of those humble beginnngs, but it’s mainly been replaced with a much more polish sound that seeps with energy rather than bursting at the seams with it. In many ways it can be a polarizing album for fans, as some might not favour the shift in aesthetic from the electric to the electronic. In parts, this shift pays off, but what you get is an album that shows you where they are headed, but doesn’t capitalize on this change of course and instead becomes lost at sea in trying to forge a new identity.