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Rain Machine

Rain Machine

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: Anti-

TV on the Radio has encapsulated large doses of post-millennial tension in much of their music. Whether it be the inscrutable Berlin-era Bowie of Return to Cookie Mountain or the fractured dance rock of Dear Science, the group’s success owes to Tunde Adebimpe’s gorgeous voice, as well as songs co-written with Kyp Malone’s damaged sensibilities and studio whiz/music geek David Sitek’s forward-thinking musical slant.

When an artist that is an integral part of a collective goes solo, it can be a critical success (Panda Bear) or an unmitigated disaster (Isobel Campbell). Even worse, it registers as nothing more than a novelty piece that forever haunts you from the front of the CD store’s bargain bin where you consider buying it because of that other group the musician is in. Fortunately, Malone’s solo project, Rain Machine, harnesses the world-weary skepticism of the best TVOTR tracks and combines it with the gorgeous fragility of chamber folk to create a vital, stand-alone piece written by an artist whom isn’t just coasting on the byproducts of chemistry. In fact, it is Rain Machine’s unwillingness to conform that makes it feel so damned good. Malone could have easily written a collection of songs like “Stork & Owl” and “Province” and called it a day. But, the songs on Rain Machine squirm with fresh life, filtering the poetry of a pissed-off artist through the sieve of delicate guitar on tracks that alternate from joyous to bleak.

However, Malone eases us into his solo universe after a brief atonal introduction with “Give Blood,” perhaps the most TVOTR-sounding song on the record. The track features the syncopated percussion, fuzzed-out guitars and driving tempo one would expect on Dear Science, though the only noticeable difference is female backing vocals imploring us to “give blood” over and over again. But that track is just a façade as the following “New Last Name” ushers us into the broken folk songs that fill out the rest of the disc. Though there are many moments of lovely arpeggiated guitar strings and hushed vocals, as in the beginning of “Driftwood Heart,” Rain Machine isn’t the arboreal daydream that bands like the Fleet Foxes have popularized as of late. Dark themes loom under Malone’s world vision as he sees an America torn by racial hatred. “Smiling Black Faces,” despite its sunny melody, touches on the Sean Bell shooting tragedy in a rising crescendo of sound.

While songs like “Hold You Holy” may overstay their welcome with shrill backup shouting, Malone is at his devastating best with long tracks “Desperate Bitch” and “Love Won’t Save You.” These songs remind one of Bowie’s plaintive “Quicksand” from his masterpiece Hunky Dory, both of them minor key dirges of despair and regret. While 16 minutes of sustained languor asks a lot of our ADD generation, there is desperate truth and beauty to be found within those two standout tracks. “Love” may very well be the post-millennial answer to R.E.M.’s “I need this” from “Country Feedback,” except instead of paper-weights and junk garages, Malone envisions “the fattest cocks and sweetest pussies the world has ever seen” as the things you could have had. How far have we gone since the days of Out of Time?

Rain Machine, rather than making us pine for new TVOTR material, actually performs an amazing trick. It helps us learn more about the band, and how to tease out which parts of the TVOTR collective that belong to Malone. It’s his strengths distilled into one strong collection that is perfect for its autumn release, a time when we mourn the passing of summer into the dying days of winter.

by David Harris

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