TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
There were a couple of things that could be levelled at TV On The Radio on their debut record. Having a rubbish title wasn't one of them; "Desperate Youth, Bloody Thirsty Babes" is an absolute corker of a name and it was just a shame that, at times, the music didn't quite meet the imagination of its creators. As it veered between experimental jazz, falsetto vocals and indie rock it sometimes lost focus on what TVOTR actually wanted to accomplish; what they wanted to be. Their second effort, however, seems to put these doubts to rest.
They’re still a band with the attention span of around four minutes, though. Each song blends their seemingly unrelated influences into different patterns, shapes and soundscapes. It feels as though they're playing with you, toying with what you expect music to sound like and how they actually go about making it. There were also times on their previous album where they seemingly forgot the tunes. Experimental music can be impressive in its own way but where it's difficult and hard to grasp it can become difficult to love. This isn't the case here - there are tunes and plenty of them.
You may be forgiven for thinking that things haven't changed as the record opens with "I Was A Lover" which would easily have slipped onto DYBTB. It's a freewheeling mix of drums, jazz and harsh, almost razor sharp guitar sounds with Tunde Adebimpe's impressive falsetto vocals floating over the top. They draw you into their world; suck you into their disjointed world of noise. After the gentle meander of "Hours" we're into a triple header of pure aural pleasure.
"Province", "Playhouses" and "Wolf Like Me" are, quite possibly, the best sequence of music I've listened to all year. This is TVOTR at the pinnacle of their powers; they've realised their ambitions fully and stayed focused. "Province" circles around a gentle piano line and echoing drumming with bursts of post-rock style guitars that veer off just left-of-centre. Those vocals high, clear and the "wooing" through the speakers are almost angelic. "Playhouses" is an altogether different prospect; darker, menacing and starts over a jarring drum beat and fuzzed up guitars. The vocals this time bubbling under the surface as the music builds; there are hints of additional guitars in the background, high in the mix and in the distance before the drums burst back into life and you find your foot following them on their erratic trip of beats. Just when you think you can't take any more "Wolf Like Me" begins with it's upbeat tempo challenged by the darkly programmed synth's and guitars on either side. You've then got to deal with the saxophone squirting out of the side as the song deconstructs itself halfway through before bursting back to life. This is, as I've heard being said on the radio, a tune.
My only advice on how to survive this onslaught? Scare the neighbours and play it loud.
Things take a bit of a breather after that as "A Method" is probably the most straightforward song they've made - a jaunty, percussion lead song with harmonising vocals complete with whistle outro. "Blues From Down Here" may begin like a gospel record but descends into something the devil would have sent with it's dark backing vocals and almost Bowie-esque Glam stomp, perverting your sense of reality in some weird way.
As the record heads towards it's conclusion you're left breathless by it's sheer vision and undertaking. And this is before you've experienced the eight minute "Wash The Day Away" which finishes the album in style. It begins like the soundtrack to the eternal struggle between good and evil, clashing at the centre to create the final wall of sound full of drone-like guitars, drums and eastern promise. "Return To Cookie Mountain" maybe the title of the album but this track sounds like "Taking Cookie Mountain" - it's grandiose, epic and words just don't do it justice.
There just isn't a bad track on here. There aren't many bands around making albums like this that challenge you as a listener. This is music that pushes the boundaries and invades your personal comfort zone. Stop buying Snow Patrol, James Blunt and Keane and buy something that has the real ability to move and affect you as a listener. This is that record. Brilliant.