Friday, March 13, 2015

Broken Dreams and Alibis

The second Friday of the month is here, and two Friday 13ths in a row - what was I thinking? I should have used the chance to do something like Black Sabbath or Blue Oyster Cult for the Bands of the Month - a missed opportunity! But what's done is done, and I suppose desperate youth and bloodthirsty dames are pretty Friday 13th... I've been itching to get TV on the Radio up here - it is time.

I've kind of abandoned the organization I started with - roughly biographical, sort of chronological. Maybe you could fit it to the scheme, say that Sleater Kinney was pretty close to the defining band of the 90s for me; TV on the Radio is pretty much the definitive band of the last 10 years or so. But that's pushing the concept, even if the concept is more about developing taste and critical ideas that life events - I listened to a lot of music from 1995 to 2008 or so, and TV on the Radio was just one of the many bands that won me. They don't have a ton of biographical significance for me - they didn't really change my tastes, they were the culmination of what I was liking at the time, maybe. I will get to a few of bands that shaped me in this period in this series - Sleater Kinney and PJ Harvey were vital; discovering prog and krautrock and Japanese noise was a big part of it; so was rediscovering post-punk, old and new (Gang of Four; The Liars); Mercury Rev and the White Stripes were revelations when I started listening to them... Back in the early-mid 00s I was listening to a bunch of stuff - post-punk, prog/krautrock/avant garde (Scott Walker, David Sylvain, post-rock things like Earth and Mono and Godspeed You Black Emperor), psychedelic folk (Ghost, 6 Organs of Admittance, etc.) - all the places these things met (Melt Banana to Ruins to Mars Volta to Boris to Of Montreal) and so on. That's when TV on the Radio appeared - and I embraced them immediately. They are, after all, drawn out of a lot of those categories - plus pop and funk and jazz and plenty more. They quickly became one of my favorites, and stayed there. And even now - when I can go a month without listening to a record, even records by absolute favorites - they stay in rotation, I buy their records, and listen to them...

I suppose that's why I'm writing about them now - of all the records that came out last year, Seeds is the one that grabbed me the minute I put it on - it's the one I have been listening to for the last couple months, listening to now... It's got all their virtues - and some new ones: songs like Could You take them in very Beatlesque directions they haven't explored all that much before. (With its 12 string guitar, and central riff built around Harrison's "What Is Life".) It comes of as their prettiest record, I think - a hugely enjoyable record, that I had to write about...

That's not new: they were exciting the first time I heard them and still are - their spectacularly blended voices; the hard driving drones; the textures and sounds, guitars and horns and synths and rhythms; the words, perfectly turned phrases, social commentary, criticism in songs, and surprising cool lines and rhymes - their keep revealing things years later. They have an extremely durable sound, partly because it is so rich - they have so many elements working together, letting them push one thing than another, here the rhythms, here the guitars, there the horns, somewhere else the blend of voices. If I'm going to carp, it's that neither of the main singers seems to be a particularly good singer - it sometimes gets them in the ballads, where they can't quite do what they seem to be thinking they should do... But that hardly matters - Kyp and Tunde both have great voices, expressive and flexible, and they have a fine sense of what to do with their voices, how to fit them into the rest of the sounds. Singing in unison, in harmony, or counterpoint (as in Could You, creating a dialogue in the vocals) - they find so many ways to deliver a song. The same is true of the music - the band isn't exactly virtuosic, but their sound is very dense, nuanced, and the full effect is put together in very complex and satisfying, and infinitely varied ways... They have the quality too of constantly reminding me of other bands I love - which might range from Pere Ubu to Michael Jackson, to Radiohead or Mercury Rev, to Marvin Gaye or the Beatles or MF Doom... reminding me of all those bands, but always sounding like themselves. Mostly because of the qualities listed - they work in so many elements to their songs, they have an inexhaustible supply of possibilities. They can be abrasive - they can be pretty; they can make dance music, ballads, they can make guitar driven songs, horns, synths - take your choice. And they can write great riffs, great choruses - and either pound them home (like Could You or Second Song or Dancing Choose) or tease them (the flickering promise and hint of a riff you get in Halfway Home or Quartz) - everywhere in between.

They are fantastic.

And so songs:

1. Halfway Home
2. The Wrong Way
3. Could You
4. Province
5. Bomb Yourself
6. wear You Out
7. I Was a Lover
8. Second Song
9. Quatrz
10. Dancing Choose

And Video: first - here's a full set on Morning Becomes Electric, supporting Seeds:

And a very early performance of The Wrong Way - listen to those almost country rhythms anmd guitars - and the church preaching vocals - misses the horns from the record, but damn, this is good:

Could You - which really could be a long lost Beatles or Big Star song... poor Kyp get gets no respect - he's singing, he's playing the guitar solo, and the camera keeps going back to Tunde, or even Dave Sitek - what can you do? He is definitely staking a claim to the best beard in rock and roll.

Dancing Choose, live on Letterman:

Second Song, from Nine Types of Light, the one record I sort of undervalued when it came out, though it keeps growing on me:

I was a lover - pushing the avant garde vibe a long way. Looking back now, the shapes of their records are clearer - Return to Cookie Mountain is the most avant garde - reminds me sometimes of Mercury Rev - or Pere Ubu, even Art of Walking/Bailing Man Pere Ubu - something there...

Halfway Home at all tomorrow's parties, with great sounding guitars, growling along under Tunde's crooning - I'm sorry to day but the bad sound of the recording makes this even cooler - hard to say how miuch fo the glitchiness is the sound manipulation and how much is the camera - and I don't really care... the opening line is one of the great lyrics, too - the lazy way they turn your head into a rest stop for the dead...:

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