Album number five from Brooklyn's TV On The Radio finds the band in a surprisingly upbeat mood. On the surface, it's a more consistent and polished set of songs than I was expecting. While it doesn't quite reach the heights of 2008's 'Dear Science', there's much to get lost in here. It's perhaps less experimental than usual, but there's something effective about the blend of synthpop and garage rock here.
Much has been written about the loss of bassist Gerard Smith to lung cancer in 2011 and the subsequent impact on this new material. While I've no doubt Smith's death informed the writing process, it's also not immediately obvious while listening to 'Seeds'. As the title suggests, this is somewhat of a re-birth for TV On The Radio, but rather than sounding like a tortured transformation, there's a joyous, defiant and almost religious undercurrent.
The opening bars of 'Quartz' play like a Gregorian chant, a theme which Tunde Adebimpe picks up later during 'Winter' when he exclaims: "This is my confession". On 'Right Now' he observes: "I see you praying on the dancefloor, see you moving so inspired. It's got me wondering what you're asking for?" Then on 'Trouble' he tells us: "The Devil has got my number", this is a man with spiritual issues on his mind. 'Seeds' is also an album of two very distinct halves. The opening six songs concentrate more on the band's electronic tendencies, layering unique sounds over strong beats. There's a unifying theme of the complexities of love to these songs, but rather than languishing in introspection, they're propelled along by the varied percussion. Even the sole guitar led track on the album's first half, 'Could You', which sounds like a lost sixties pop song, has a sense of urgency provided by the rhythm section and added brass.
Then, suddenly, at the start of the seventh track 'Ride' there's a two-minute piano led introduction that's more akin to Sigur Ros than TV On The Radio. It signals a sea change in the album where guitars and garage rock take a more prominent role. Within minutes, Adebimpe is telling us to: "Think about the future", with an infectious optimism. It's the latter stages of the album that really do produce the highlights as well. The dirty riffs of 'Winter' sound like the Stooges, and 'Lazerray' is a legitimate slice of primordial rock. Yet both fit perfectly on 'Seeds' because they demonstrate a life affirming urgency that seeps into every track here.
By the time Adebimpe tells us: "Everything is going to be OK" on 'Trouble', you believe his repeated mantra will work. It's that sense of optimism that makes 'Seeds' an album worth investigating. It may not satisfy those looking for surprising experimentation, but it's an honest album, which craves consistency instead of shock value and benefits from that approach.
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