Sunday, April 17, 2011

Explain it to me: TV on the Radio

For a long time, a number of friends who I respect have being trying to sway me onto the charms of TV on the Radio. Despite listening to all their albums multiple times, I still like exactly three songs and remain largely mystified as to what all the fuss is about.

Today, I gave their widely acclaimed new album a listen and by track 5, it felt like it had been playing for about six hours. While there are elements that I like (mainly Tunde Adebimpe's vocals, the horn stabs and some of the atmospherics), I'm still trying to wrap my head around what makes this band so special. As I sat there sighing and generally complaining/mumbling, I asked my girlfriend what I was missing. Her response, "You have to listen to Return to Cookie Mountain. The other albums are good but it's really Cookie Mountain that makes them special." So I gave it a listen. The result was I was bored.

As I listened to it, I had the following conversation:
JH: Is this good?
GF: Yeah, it's good isn't it! Wait. What?
JH: I asked 'is it good?' Not that it was good.
GF: It's great. You just have to get used to the vocals.
JH: I like the vocals, that's not the problem. It's like they keep piling random shit onto the track and seeing what sticks.
GF: (definitively, walking off) It's good.

As I said, I like those three songs (a whole lot in fact) but there seems to be some disconnect to me between the accolades the music receives and the music I'm listening to. I will persevere though as it sounds interesting and I want to like them, maybe I need to listen to it in the right context. Am I supposed to be stoned or something?

TV on the Radio. Anyone care to explain it to me what I'm missing?



  1. I don't think they're great, so I might be the wrong person to comment. I think they sound a lot like Eric Avery (his Polar Bear project, and his solo record) which means that I don't turn them off when they come on, but I don't seek them out, either. However, I've got two theories, which I'll label the Happy Queen Analogy (HQA) and the Angry Hipster Analogy (AHA).
    Under HQA- they occupy the same space as Queen did in the 1970's- a substitute for better bands. Queen only existed because David Bowie went all avante garde and moved to Berlin, while Led Zeppelin got all stoned and Bonzo died. If Queen couldn't fill in the spaces left blank by Glam David Bowie, and Golden God Led Zepp, they had nothing but processed vocals to offer. Likewise, minus OK Computer Radiohead, and the absent (until now) Strokes- TV on the Radio occupy their place instead. Happy times for indie kids.
    When I'm more Angry, I instead believe the AHA side- which is- They are tokens, adopted by hipsters trying to prove they're not racist, even though they'll support the appropriations of a band like Vampire Weekend. I'm a lot less certain on this one, but it's plausible that they owe their career to a kind of White Guilt. Wouldn't be the first time (Mother's Finest comes to mind, but only because I remember the 1970's)

  2. I did think it'd about AHA but I think it's more HQA. I know my friends seem to really like them for the music (WHAT!) and I just asked my girlfriend who had no idea what they look like (or even how many people are in the band). But I think in the vacuum left by the sub-par Hail to the Thief and the absence of a major indie player, that's probably how they got their foothold in. That said, Staring at the Sun is a great track. However, you're making me think I'll have to write why Queen are a great singles band.

    I'd hate to think it was about race but you can't put it past hipsters (or anyone I guess). My experience with AHA was when Living Color were around - every interview or article was about race, not about the music which pissed me off no end and there was this whole condescending vibe whenever anyone mentioned them. Shit times.

    That being said I think HQA may have just explained the existence of the Foo Fighters too.

  3. ....And now I feel bad because the bass player died. Gerard Smith, dead of lung cancer at 34. I'm sure he was a lovely fellow- I'm sure that he was a talented musician- I'm sure he could have been a friend in another life. Still, TV on the Radio just aren't quite my speed, so I'm not going to listen to them out of guilt, white or otherwise. Seems silly to me. Do I think people with full heads of hair should read my blog because I'm balding? Yes, that's how silly.
    As for the Foos- they kill me because you've got not one but two people involved who were in far better bands (yes, Dave Grohl is one of them. However, not trying to be contrary, but the band was Scream, not Nirvana. Nirvana was mediocre as a band- Cobain was a genius songwriter, in a fair to average band. Scream on the other hand played some pretty tight and fiery DC styled Hardcore Punk- and if you dig just a little, you'll find that Scream still serves as a kind of lynchpin behind the scenes)Oi, that was a tangent....

  4. I thought that too when I read the news this morning but I was talking about the music not the people making it. It's sad when anyone dies and having had cancer deaths in my life, I know how totally fucked that is so my commiserations go out to his friends and family.

    I still like Nirvana but I'm a sucker for pop music like that. I watched that Foo Fighters documentary the other night and it's interesting to see how badly Grohl treated Franz Stahl when he was their second guitarist - they just kicked him out without really explaining to him why. Ahh good old musical differences... gets them every time.