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Review: TV on the Radio Make Like Happy Idiots on the Breezy ‘Seeds’

7
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Label: Harvest

From here, it looks like TV on the Radio’s career pivoted the moment Kyp Malone growled, “Fuck your war / Because I’m fat and in love and no bombs are falling on me for sure,” on 2008’s Dear Science. Five albums in, this feeling — vulgar love as impregnable shield against the deadly bluster of power — has become the band’s heart. Once, their fuzz and throb sounded menacing; even when triumphant bliss was their agenda, the triumph is in staying heard and staying strong, amid a queasy swirl of static. (Sometimes, as on Return to Cookie Mountain’s “Wolf Like Me”, the triumph itself was menacing.) By 2011’s Nine Types of Light, the sounds had become so gentle — a little lightened and a little funked — that the enveloping buzz felt benevolent and sensual, even protective — a blanket over lovers.

Three years later, they plant the even lighter Seeds, recorded after the painfully early death of bassist Gerald Smith. The rueful “Quartz,” its endless loops freer, more spacious than anything previous, twinkles and claps like Swedish indie-pop; “Test Pilot” floats Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals over a simple 808 stutter and the occasional ghostly crash of a chord. Denser songs like “Winter” or “Lazerray,” pop-punkishly stuffed with grainy guitar attack, are buoyed by noise, not embattled or engulfed.

Cured of Cookie Mountain’s furious jitters, emerged from the lovers’ cocoon of Light, the best songs on Seeds neatly balance the world’s chaos and terror against the invulnerability of love: a complete system, in which bombs do fall but never completely destroy. “You keep telling yourself everything’s gonna be OK / I keep telling myself don’t worry be happy,” goes a song called “Trouble”; the title track’s title metaphor welcomes imminent rain because “this time I’ve got seeds on ground.” The band keeps sliding a little dopily into earnest exhortation: “I’m by your side / It’s time to ride,” “Could you learn to build something besides a wall?” “We are going to need the strength it takes to pave the way and be the first test pilots.” But the album’s high point, the bouncy breakup song “Happy Idiot,” doesn’t celebrate or condemn its titular state of mind so much as accept that sometimes it’s where you have to be for your health. (This means it’s also the album’s most successful unity of romance with politics: a quiet successor to Dear Science’s “Red Dress.”)

Sometimes rock-band preachers drive you crazy; “Ride,” with its straightforwardly arranged schoolyard melody, sounds like a Blink-182 song drained of wit and tripled in length. But when Adebimpe and Malone’s voices circle like gulls over rumbling loops, or lurch from rapid-fire verse to glazed, elongated-syllable chorus, the band’s bromides acquire the clarity and kick the words don’t give them. Abstract encomiums to love begin to feel as true as they are. Fans of TVOTR’s early density and difficulty might get dismayed at their gradual transformation into the thinking stoner’s Coldplay. But it’s impossible to listen to Seeds’ luxurious fuzz and think that this is a band who mean to be anything but fat and in love.