TV on the Radio: Seeds

TV on the Radio: Seeds


Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Throughout their career, TV on the Radio has embraced the concept of change. They never stand still or repeat themselves, and they have the integrity to warn that the band will cease to exist when they can no longer sustain those principles. Over the course of its first four albums, the band acted as puppet master, meticulously controlling its evolution to avoid any consistency beyond being dependably innovative. When bassist Gerard Smith lost his battle with cancer just after the release of 2011’s Nine Types of Light, the band lost some of that control.

To the group’s credit, they don’t shy away from Smith’s absence, dedicating Seeds to him. But the album is not a funeral. Instead, they’ve taken the three years since Smith’s passing and Nine Types to reflect and channel their emotions into a progression that feels organic and natural, and one that will challenge their listeners more than any previous release.

Like every other TVOTR record, Seeds is unlike anything they’ve ever done, though “You” from Nine Types is a close cousin. Going for more hummable songs, singer Tunde Adebimpe and company has created the most accessible record of the band’s career, though it’s not as straightforward as it may seem on the surface. Adebimpe vocals are at the forefront, a steady thread that’s less buried in noise and effects, complementing producer-guitarist Dave Sitek’s layers of art haze. Seeds conveys hopefulness even in moments of despair, with relationships and love the central themes. “How much do I love you?/ How hard do I try?” Adebimpe asks during the album-opening “Quartz,” revealing that all he ever wanted was eternal connection. Jangle-pop guitars and a power-chord-propelled horn section drive the instantly catchy “Could You,” as Adebimpe sings of going beyond yourself and opening your heart for someone else. During “Trouble” things are falling apart around Adebimpe and he knows it’s going to get rocky, but he reassures himself, “Everything’s going to be OK,” echoing Bobby McFerrin above chugging acoustic guitars and an electronic beat. Over the throbbing, industrial feel of play-on-words “Careful You,” Adebimpe debates with himself whether to stop or continue a romance. Perhaps a reference to his thoughts regarding the state of the band over the past three years, he reveals, “I know it’s best to say goodbye/ But I can’t seem to move away.

Though Seeds is more of a vocal record, Sitek’s daring production brings TVOTR to entirely new places, like the swirling vocal harmonies and endless layers of “Quartz” and the new-wave guitars of “Happy Idiot.” Album centerpiece “Ride” feels utterly gigantic, starting with an over two minute piano intro that incorporates strings, synths and xylophone before morphing into an anthem the National would be proud of. Seeds won’t be confused with Dear Science, but “Right Now” offers a dance-friendly take, even if it’s not completely obvious, while the fragmented beats and heavy synth of “Love Stained” see the band evolving gloomy verses into a hopeful chorus “Everything’s alright/ Just let me be your darling.” The one-two punch of “Winter” and “Lazerray” find TVOTR exploring some of their most conspicuous rock tendencies, the latter in which drives like Arcade Fire’s “Month of May” while the punk-y former symbolizes coming out of a storm.

Seeds marks a gentle, comfortable return after a difficult period for the band. The album’s title is appropriate, and ending the record with the title track seems a triumphant statement about overcoming struggle. Above a groove that sounds like the Beach Boys if they formed in Brooklyn in the 2000s, Adebimpe sings, “Rain comes down like it always does/ This time I’ve got seeds on ground.” It’s as if “Seeds” is a proclamation of the old “if it doesn’t kill you” adage, in this case interpreted by TV on the Radio to demonstrate that they’ll decide when it’s time to stop. Until then, they’re ready to fight, and they’ll keep getting stronger.

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