TV on the Radio have emerged from hibernation with Seeds, their first album since the passing of bassist Gerard Smith to cancer in 2011. The title of the work signals a new beginning for the band and it comes as no surprise that it is infused with a sense of mortality. However, with a robust feeling of optimism to balance things out, this is not a grim, melancholic affair, as represented most clearly by the title track that closes the LP. Here the sense of loss is tempered by the promise of a new start, just as the dark electronic bass that underlines the song is moderated by bright vocals and harmonies.
The great achievement of this recording is how well the band’s eclectic sounds balance out. So many attempts to marry electronica with more traditional pop/rock song-writing turn out to be quite a mess. But this is a work of great clarity, successfully blending loops with elements of rock, pop, soul and even punk. It also manages to be experimental and accessible at the same time.
The key to this mix is Tunde Adebimpe, whose smooth, soulful vocals are at the fore of every track and holding the seemingly disparate elements together in a sonically satisfying package.
The order of the tracks is perhaps counter-intuitive but it really works. Most of the softer, reflective tracks appear in the first half of the album, allowing the piece to build in intensity in the second half, which is best appreciated with the volume dial right up.
Opening with the hypnotic loops of “Quartz” and the dark electronica of “Careful You”, the third track, “Could You” gets the toes tapping and comes as a bit of a surprise with bright, bealtesque guitars. This is followed by lead single “Happy Idiot”, a radio friendly number constructed over a disco beat.
“Test Pilot” is a return to chill-out mode with rhythm loops and catchy vocal hooks, while “Love Stained” is a beautiful, well-crafted piece of pop song-writing with a power that builds around Adebimpe’s vocals.
“Ride” begins the second half of the album with an elegiac introduction of strings and piano that leads to a driving bass line; an ultimately anthemic song, this sets the upbeat tone of the B side. We get bright and catchy pop with “Right now” and then rock out to “Winter”, before dipping into punk mode with “Lazerray”.
With a chorus that proclaims that ‘everything’s gonna be ok’, “Trouble” encapsulates the determined optimism of the album, and again showcases TVOTR’s impressive blend: acoustic guitars and loops underscored by world music rhythms. The album ends as it began in sparser, hypnotic mode with the title track.
It’s rare that you hear an album without any fillers, but there is nothing here that tempts the skip button. This is an accomplished work from a band at their peak that manages to knit together its diverse parts into a very satisfying whole.
Seeds is available now from Harvest Records. Grab it now from iTunes.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor