TV On The Radio’s third studio album Dear Science is their most cohesive collection so far. At first (and second) listen its highs might not seem as triumphant as “Staring At The Sun” or “Wolf Like Me,” but on repeat listens, the consistency of its 11 tracks turns it into a more satisfying whole, and soon enough certain songs spread their wings, feel like some of the best of TVOTR’s oeuvre. Throughout it’s a more mature sound, desperate youth and young liars. Really, it might take ears a while to get: Dave Sitek’s production is syrupy dense with a high count of horns, hand claps, pulses, and synthesizers. But let it sink in some because turns out our first tastes of the Brooklyn band’s return from Cookie Mountain, the full-screed-ahead “Dancing Choose” and the funky, optimistic, P.M. Dawn-leaning “Golden Age” aren’t the album’s best.
One of the biggest, best punches is Dear Science’s opener, “Halfway Home,” which layers an upbeat “ba ba da ba,” upfront handclaps, and dreamy whirls with layers of fuzzy synths and up-tempo percussion: Jesus & Mary Chain backing Peter Gabriel and the Commodores. When the falsetto kicks in, the guitars soar and more percussion finds space within the overall rhythmic flow: It’s an icy, dark, ecstatic post-punk anthem. It’s followed by another chilly track, “Crying.” This is a funk piece, drawing back and harnessing the energy of “Halfway Home.” There are horns, Prince-isms, and those skittering electronics, pulsations, some crystalline synth notes. It finds TVOTR wisely offering an early pace shift to the album — upbeat, but not as unbridled as the opener — because this is where Tunde jumps into the speedy enunciation of “Dancing Choose” (and its mellow-ass “In my mind I’m counting butterflies” chorus).
The crawling, elegiac “Stork And Owl” (strings, catchy/spare synth, but mostly those strings) leads into the radio-ready “Golden Age,” which we’ve already discussed at length: horns and strings, synths and handclaps, polyrhythm in the pulse, vocals melting all over the horizon and word of “a golden age, coming around.” What do folks think of “Family Tree”? It’s a ballad. It’s nostalgic. It has lines like “From the shadows of the gallows of your family tree / There’s a hundred hearts or three / Put the blood to the roots of evil to keep them young.” And it’s good. “In Your Eyes” on “Disarm”?
After which you get the funky, Sly Stoned “Red Dress,” its “fuck your war” and invitation to “come bear witness to the whore of Babylon,” and the more hushed, romantic, and buoyantly building “Love Dog” and its Kid A electro-percussion, which set us up for the stellar crowd pleaser “Shout Me Out”: It starts slow and spare (drums, electronics, Tunde) before opening into it’s sing-a-long dare: “If you’ve got lungs, come on shout me out.” Before that, though, he offers some of his catchiest, subtlest vocal melodies to date. This seems to be part of TVOTR’s growth: No doubt Adebimpe can sing, but he’s never sung so assuredly. How about that shift at 1:49? How about the “Runnin’ Down A Dream” melody? It stays strong to the finish line with the kick-ass dark apocalyptic “DLZ” and the sunnier martial cadences of the sexy, escalating “Lover’s Day,” which includes guest vocals from Celebration’s Katrina Ford, a skyrocketing lift and a great horn/choir arrangement that sends the album out on a high: “I hunger for you like a cannibal… / I’m gonna take you / I’m gonna shake you / I’m gonna make you come. / I swear to God it’ll get so hot it’ll melt our faces off.” Lighters please.
Dear Science succeeds as a complete record. It doesn’t feel like a couple of anthemic singles with filler. Or an odds and ends. Instead, TV’s managed to sustain a feel that doesn’t flatline during its 50 minutes. Fact is, we’re pretty giddy. Good job, guys.
Dear Science is out 9/23 via Interscope.