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TV On The Radio gives no quarter in fashioning its audacious sound

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Rec-room rock: TV On The Radio
  • Rec-room rock: TV On The Radio

At a time when American rock music seems mired in old sounds -- from garage to country to new wave -- or rudimentary collisions, such as emo/hardcore and prog/metal, TV On The Radio stands out as one of the most adventurous, forward-sounding groups around. Certainly, the band's unapologetically ambitious blend of indie guitar chug, torrential loops, background electronic clatter, dense atmospheric arrangements and interlaced vocals makes few concessions to convention. But given the retrograde approach of the band's contemporaries, that may be its secret.

That this rather challenging music should win the British Shortlist prize (for 2004's Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes) isn't as surprising as that the band subsequently signed to Interscope Records for its next two albums, 2006's Return to Cookie Mountain and last year's Dear Science. It's been a long time since an act that enjoyed near-universal critical genuflection found a home on a major label.

Which isn't to suggest TV On The Radio is popular, per se. It's still nowhere near as ubiquitous as Hannah Montana or Jason Mraz. But Dear Science is easily its most accessible, engaging album, opening the door for a wider embrace with bubbly, dance-worthy beats, brighter melodies and a less busy, streamlined sound.

"I think we were maybe a little tired of hearing about how dirge-y and dark the music was. None of us really looked at ourselves that way," says singer/guitarist Kyp Malone, speaking from Brooklyn. "Even though our music wasn't that, it's what people decided to focus on. So we tried something else."

The album's themes are as ambitious and heady as the music, such as the adjurations in "Golden Age" and "Crying" to engage our world and take responsibility for making it a better place. There's also "Red Dress," with its confession that "I'm scared to death that I'm living a life not worth dying for." The album ends with "Lover's Day," a celebration of lovemaking that offers an ideal coda to the band's clear-eyed yet hopeful view of the world.

"Human history is littered with examples of devastating plagues, and I know there is no reason not to expect that in the future, but I hope that we've learned enough about public health to circumvent that. So you can be pragmatic and hopeful at the same time," Malone says. "But hope running free is fairly useless if it's not tied to some kind of pragmatism."

 

TV On The Radio, with Little Dragons. 8 p.m. Mon., May 11. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $28 (At press time, the show was sold out). 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com

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