In a review on BlogCritics.com of “Dear Science,” the third album by the genre-blurring New York art-rockers TV on the Radio, Nik Dirga wrote, “I don’t know if [they] set out to create the soundtrack to the Bush years, but the push-and-pull of anxiety I get from their albums makes as good a background music as any.”
This assessment prompts a slightly pained chuckle from vocalist Tunde Adebimpe. “I hope that people will be able to listen to these records in the future without thinking of George Bush at all,” he says. “I hope that they’ll provide solace for whatever is going on–and I just don’t want that guy’s name in my mouth anymore.”
Nevertheless, Adebimpe agrees that the group’s music has been a product of these disorienting and troubling times, both with the dark edge of many of the lyrics, and with the sense of optimism that often acts as a contrast in the music.
“I feel like as dark as the lyrics get on the record, they’re no darker than some poets I really like, or even a newspaper. That’s the reason those lyrics show up that way: They’re either feelings or perceived facts, while the uplifting music part of it… I feel like the function of music is that it sometimes can get something across to you in a way that you can’t capture in words. [Guitarist and second vocalist] Kyp [Malone] was saying you don’t want to go around dancing about the apocalypse. But I kind of feel that you don’t want to go walking around with a sandwich board that says ‘The End Is Near’ and not have some melody with you.”
Formed by Adebimpe and guitarist-keyboardist David Andrew Sitek and completed by Malone, bassist Gerard Smith and drummer Jaleel Bunton, the specter of Sept. 11 loomed large over the New York band as its identity first came into focus. “We definitely backed off from everything after that and said, ‘Well, this is the best place for us to be right now, making this music, because everything else is suddenly incredibly confusing.” The quintet released its first album “Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes” (2004) on the local Touch and Go Records label, then made the leap to the majors for the widely-hailed “Return to Cookie Mountain” in 2006.
Like the earlier discs, “Dear Science” incorporates a seemingly limitless palette of diverse sounds and influences, ranging from Afro-pop, doo-wop and funk to post-punk, electronica and psychedelia, and from gorgeous soul ballads to driving, angular noise-rockers. “I don’t know anyone who just listens to one kind of music,” Adebimpe says. “They might have a favorite kind of music, but they listen to all sorts of things. I also think it’s impossible kind of on a structural level to just listen to one type of music, because most types of music are connected to two other types of music. Nothing comes from a vacuum, and if it did, you probably wouldn’t be snapping your fingers to it.
“The whole idea of sticking to one genre… I feel like there are people who do that really, really well, and that’s the way they hear things and how they express themselves. But it’s not the only way to do things.”
Given its members’ wide-ranging musical interests, are there ever clashes about what exactly is and isn’t a TV on the Radio song?
“We don’t think about it so much that way,” Adebimpe says. “It’s more like, ‘This is making me want to make more of it, and this is making me want to stop what we’re doing right now.’ Collectively, we’ve spent so much time together, I feel like part of our friendships have been formed on trading music or books or art that we like. Not like we’re sitting in a caf with a monocle saying, ‘Let’s take this apart.’ But you talk about what works for you and what doesn’t work for you, and I feel like that definitely comes into the band.”
Adebimpe adds that despite the acclaim for “Return to Cookie Mountain” and the fact that TV on the Radio now shares a label with Eminem, Fergie and 50 Cent, the group didn’t feel any pressures in crafting the new album. “The nice thing about this band is that it would be nearly impossible for someone who was not in the band to make us more or less nervous about making something new, because most of the pressure comes from ourselves, if only because we work on a pretty intuitive level with each other.
“I feel like in the beginning when you’re writing, there’s a lot of play involved, and then when you’re recording and actually piecing things together, that’s more like work. I feel like this time the ideas showed up pretty quickly and were put together pretty quickly; we definitely had become more efficient with laying things down and trusting, ‘OK, this is going in a direction; it doesn’t have to be the final direction, but let’s keep going and not apply any scathing criticism to it until we see we’re it’s going to go.’ It’s a good thing to feel less pressure sometimes, to get more done, and then you can go back and say, ‘Well, this doesn’t work, let’s take it out. It’s no harm done.’
“Interscope has been really cool about anything we’ve asked for, in terms of artwork or being respectful of our time in the studio,” Adebimpe concludes. “They’re kind of a part of this experiment with us, because God knows, no one is really selling records anymore! And for them to take on a band that is not an easy band to market to a lot of people… well, hopefully it’s as much fun for them as it is for us.”
TV on the Radio, the Dirtbombs
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22
Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
(312) 559-1212; www.ticketmaster.com