For awhile now, this band has been excelling at the art of making new and exciting music while also staying somewhat under the radar. They've gotten plenty of critical acclaim, but still haven't been lifted up to the coveted festival spots I think they deserve. Without a doubt in my mind this band is a powerhouse in the msuic industry, and although they aren't selling out arenas or playing the pre headliner spot at the Coachella's and Bonnaroo's of the world, they without a doubt deserve to. Each album has seen the band grow in not only the musical sense, but also grow from difficult experiences, death, depression, and use all of that to become one of the most interesting, thought provoking bands I've ever heard. In preparation for the bands forth coming album, today we're talking about my top ten songs from the explosive TV on the Radio.
10. Dirtywhirl, Return to Cookie Mountain
The slow chatter of a tambourine starting us off, while vocalist Tunde Adebimpe slowly opens up to expose us to his sultry and prominent voice. I like the song because among all of the awesome songs on Cookie Mountain, it's one of the better examples of a mid tempo jam. It also reminds me of a glorious autumn day while you sit outside and enjoy the weather. The background vocals are also well used. You might think that mousey sounding vocals might be a little bit much, but for some reason here it works.
9. DLZ, Dear Science
Everything about this song is made for a late night chill dance party. The beats opens up, and before you know it bodies are swaying together in gorgeous unison. I also love the opening line of “Congratulations on the mess you made of things.” The band was heavily anti- Bush during his presidency, and knowing that, it's very easy to see this song as a critque and criticism of not just his administration, but also of the whole political system. The song continues to have a great flow to it, and at times it feels like the musicians are trying to keep up with the urgent pace of the vocals. Dave Sitek on drums also gives more weight and tension to the situation. One of the better songs on this album, “DLZ” really helps to tie the themes and emotion into a nice arrangement before the conclusion of the album finds us.
8. Love Dog, Dear Science
Such a lovely song. When this album first came out, this was easily the most played track for me. I love the slow, hazy opening. For some reason, so much of this band reminds me of a lazy sunday. When listening to it, you cant help but imagine a sweet puppy dog crying out for nurturing and love. I'm sure that thats not what the actual song is about, but as a father to two badass animals, my mind is often on my babies. Getting back to the song though, it very well might be a song about the complexities of human relationships, and the story here is about a relationship winding down. TV on the Radio, as a band tend to be a little metaphorical in the themes of their songs, and the symbolism they often use brings the listener to a to a sort of vague understanding of what the song is trying to convey. This isn't a bad thing at all. Often times, you don't need exact meanings in songs to feel empowered by them. You just need the music and tone of the piece.
7. Staring at the Sun, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
Likely the first song many heard by this band, and after probably 12 years of having this song around, it's still a really great track. Upon first listen, you might think that the song will eventually pick up, but it doesn't really have to. The lyrics are pretty tight too, and it's here where you get a brief taste of what this band is capable of. One of my favorite parts of this group is the use of metaphors and symbolism in lyrics. “Know the trees because the dirt is temporary” has and continues to be one of my favorite lines in any of the band's work.
6. Province, Return to Cookie Mountain
Finally, we find ourselves at the David Bowie featured “Province.” For a decent amount of time I had no idea it was even Bowie. His voice has a way of being present and the listener not being aware that it's him. In this instance, his contribution really helps. If not for my wife, there's no way to know how long I would have been ignorant to this presence here. Having said that, even without him the song works. So many of their songs are midtempo, but this one is purely triumphant and overjoyed. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but for me it's a song for for celebrating life and victory. Preferably on a mountain at the top of the world. The background claps are a great but subtle touch too. I'll probably get laughed at for it, but for my money I can't think of a band better fit to take over the creative and groundbreaking path set by Radiohead, once Radiohead gives up the throne of course. The band has so many layers and different things going on, that it's hard to not get swept up into sincerity and beauty.
5. Halfway Home, Dear Science
Among all of their songs, this is the one that starts with a bang and never relents. An appropriate album opener, it's a vicious, musically quick tempered track that is eased down only by Tunde's patient and willowy voice. Mentioning Radiohead again, I'm sure it wasn't intentional, but the claps in unison easily pull me back into the track “15 Step,” off of Radiohead's awesome “In Rainbows.” Regardless of homages though, the song is tight and well woven. Sitek and Malone both help to propel the song to really cool place. The song has always held a weird, heavenly vibe to it. Not in the religious way, but the crooning style and the steady tone of the song make me think of the “ooooo's” and “ahhh's” you might hear in a crowded church on a Sunday.
4. Killer Crane, Nine Types of Light.
Here we start getting to a some real emotion. This song, or at least the opening, always makes me think of the last scene in Jurassic Park where Sam Neil is watching the pelicans soar though the air. The track itself though, is very clean and beautiful. It's one of the best songs on the highly overlooked “Nine Types of Light” record. Among positive songs, this one is at the very top. It's full of hopefulness, and the themes speak of understand, patience, and the ability to move aay from the sad events that detour our lives. It also should be mentioned this was the last album recorded with Gerard Smith, who unfortunately passed away from lung cancer. Details about how long he was sick prior to passing are vague, but it's easy to hear the somber tone of their life in the tracks on the album. However, the song remains remarkably poignant, and the visuals painted in the lyrics are some of the best of the band's entire career. R.I.P. Gerard Smith.
3. Young Liars, Young Liars EP
This song has a weird, ominous vibe to it, but it still sounds exactly like the band we've come to expect. It's interesting that the track wasn't ever used on a full length album, because it's good enough, if not better than many of the still cool tracks on the full lengths. Another downbeat song that doesn't even reach an apex, “Young Liars” is song that doesn't make a lot of sense lyrically, but it's a cool ass track regardless. The interesting thing about this and though, is that they aren't really the same on albums as they are live. Live its very emotional and bouncy, and at all the shows I've seem them perform you're drawn to the upbeat dancing happening. They somehow find a way to make a relaxed down-tempo album song into an upbeat, energetic live song, and while I'm not sure how they pull it off so flawlessly, I'm not complaining.
2. Will Do, Nine Types of Light
The first single off the album, it explains to us where the band had been during their two years away, but it also tells us that they've only gotten better at their craft in the years away. It's an optimistic song, but it's not overly optimistic. The songs core is the core of a heart being tugged by the trials and complications of what makes up love. Being in love, and giving your heart to another flawed human being is difficult, but it's also beautiful. We have to find that trust somewhere, and no one is perfect. This song is a great example of that. You can hear the desperation and uncertainty in the lyrics, and the music only serves to highlight those fears, and also to keep hope alive that everything will work out in due time.
1. Wolf Like Me, Return to Cookie Mountain
Probably one of the best uses of a song I've ever seen in a TV show was during the firehouse drama “Rescue Me” where the episode closed with Dennis Leary's character sprinting down the street with this song noisily breaking barriers behind him. Beyond the usage in the show, it's an incredible song, and as you can see, my favorite by the band. For a band who does slower more textured songs, this song is urgent, angry, and even more textured than the vast majority of their other works. It's a song full of dancing motives, and the lyrics are some of the most concise to date. It's not as subtle and metaphorical as other tracks, but here it really works. The song at once seems to be very much about transforming into a beast, and in a sense it is. The beast though it probably not a werewolf though. I think the beast in question is humanity's need to feed on the less capable, and how it's shaping our world to be a ruthless ugly place. Hopefully it's not too late, we can stop ourselves from “Howling Forever."
Thanks for Reading!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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