Don’t judge TV on the Radio, another precious and overhyped band from Brooklyn’s precious and overhyped Williamsburg rock scene, too quickly.
On their debut album, Desperate Lives, Blood Thirsty Babes, this trio (originally a duo, recently expanded to a five-piece) of thickly bespectacled, neo-hippie oddballs delivers more than the post-everything noise-pop made marginally famous by boroughmates the Rapture, the Liars and the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs.
This is a dense recording, stuffed with sneaky-heavy bass drones and subtle but luminous guitars; live and programmed drumming; some sick-sounding horn blurts (used as a kind of coda on the thunderous “Wrong Way,” which opens the album); and not least, vocals stacked atop vocals.
The layers of voices you hear belong mostly to Tunde Adebimpe, whose range has the power to make you weep. On “Dreams,” Adebimpe sings, “I know your heart can’t grieve/what your eyes won’t see/but you were my favorite moment/of our dead century,” with such passion that it doesn’t matter whether the phrase actually makes sense.
Some songs do not match the same emotion and power, though their poetry might be tighter and more balanced, as on the a cappella sung “Ambulance”: “I will be your ambulance/if you will be my accident/I will be your screech and crash/if you will be my crutch and cast.”
The closest TVOTR comes to echoing the current Williamsburg post-punk accent is on “Poppy” — which features a cascading, Keith Levene-y rhythm-guitar lead — and “Bomb Yourself,” an anti-war rant delivered in the kind of slow funk blues that could have risen from Bill Laswell’s stable circa 1981.
That’s not surprising, considering that David Sitek (an original member with Adebimpe), has also produced the Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and is one of the architects of the recent New York rock revival.
His production here is not entirely novel, but it’s enough of a departure to help move this scene beyond the barren post-punk disco nook it’s crawled into. When it works, like on the soul-stirring “Staring at the Sun” — with its quivering guitars, falsetto vocals and minimal electro beats — it lifts you up to a higher, better place, then gently sets you back down on the ground.
E-mail Walter Wasacz at [email protected].