Thursday, January 6, 2011

TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

★★★★★ Tracks:

The Wrong Way
Staring at the Sun
Don’t Love You

It was the summer of 2006 when I first moved to New York and it was the first time I heard TV on the Radio. The apartment my wife and I found bordered Sunnyside and Long Island City in Queens, and as I took my first adventurous walks around the urban sprawl that was my new neighborhood I would play “Staring at the Sun” on repeat, a song I had quickly become addicted to. It, along with the rest of Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, was unlike anything I had heard. Perhaps it was coincidental, but the record sounded like a sonic representation of the New York I read about and was now seeing for the very first time; the mish-mash of cultures in the outer-boroughs mimicked the mish-mash of musical styles; the social and political messages resounded in the city that surrounded me; the vibrant, busy activity contrasted perfectly with the more isolated lyrics; the subways, spray paint and Five Pointz street art blended with the group’s post-punk influences. I was playing the soundtrack to the city I was now calling my new home.

As I took a deeper look in to TV on the Radio’s history the connection between the group and the city grew stronger. They originally formed around Dave Sitek and Tunde Adebimpe, both transplants who moved to Brooklyn in the early 2000s. It was around this time that the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs broke it big, hurtling in a New York city music revival that's still growing today. TV on the Radio continued the trend by setting up shop in a neighborhood that quickly grew in to the city’s music mecca, Williamsburg. The group caught the attention of many with their early recordings, prompting them to begin working with the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner and Liars’ Aaron Hemphill. But in my opinion, their pivotal moment came when Kyp Malone decided to join the band. Malone, a vocalist, guitarist, programmer, and Brooklyn native, really cemented TV on the Radio’s sound by adding additional guitar and programming, but most importantly, backing-up Adebimpe’s vocals with his signature falsettos. Between Dave Sitek’s phenomenal production, the group’s complex songwriting and lyricism, TV on the Radio had quickly developed in to one of the most interesting bands around.

Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is considered the weakest collection of songs from TV on the Radio but I disagree with the sentiment. “Staring at the Sun” might still be my favorite overall track of theirs and although it was already released on the Young Liars EP, it’s the slightly altered version here I heard first and prefer. TVOTR's albums always start out with a bang, and “The Wrong Way” might be the best of them all. A blast of horns and a distorted bass line pave the way for a gorgeous piece of catchy, minimal electronica with Adebimpe tackling black stereotypes in his lyrics. “Dreams” is an eerily isolating song that sounds like it would fit along side some of Trent Reznor’s best work, and it wasn’t surprising to find out he guest appeared to sing it at one of their live performances. There are plenty more highlights here but none can trump the outstanding acapella track “Ambulance,” which contains some of the best lyrics TV on the Radio have ever written:

Oh i will be your accident
If you will be my ambulance
I will be your screech and crash
If you will be my crutch and cast
I will be your one more time
If you will be my one last chance
So fall for me

The last half of the record might rely a bit too much on their obvious Kid A-era Radiohead influences (TVOTR’s first record is entitled OK Calculator) but “Don’t Love You” and “Wear You Out” are both excellent nonetheless. Yes, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is not quite as grandiose as the two albums that would follow, but pound for pound there are just as many enjoyable moments here.

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