TV on the Radio Return to Cookie Mountain [4AD]

According to Wikipedia: “Cookie mountain is the area above Vanilla Dome and the following levels leading up to Ludwig’s Castle. No secret passages here – but plenty of monty moles!” I have no clue what a “monty mole” is, or if the Mario Brothers have anything to do with this, but Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio are responsible for a fantastic record that’s deliberate, passionate, and impossible to decipher.

Formed in 2001 by New York loft-mates Tunde Adebimpe and David Andrew Sitek, TVOTR began as a collaboration of musical ideas between two artists. Interested in visual as well as audio arts, Adebimpe and Sitek weren’t out to make rock music – they weren’t sure what they wanted. 2004’s Touch and Go release Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes defied categorization; Adebimpe’s incredible vocal command and Sitek’s eery, driving instrumentation pushed through gospel, jazz and rock without ever losing steam or settling down. While the overall sound was somewhat disjointed, Adebimpe’s vocals shone through with breathtaking confidence and urgency.

Return to Cookie Mountain, the band’s first effort on Interscope, feels like a natural progression of the ideas evident in fragments on Desperate Youth. More cohesive as a whole, there is an increased electronic element – including the brilliant and unsettling beat of the first track – but the mood of the album is absolutely absorbed by its humanity. Adebimpe’s voice breathes life into the forged metal of the song structures. Recent addition Kyp Malone, who shares song-writing duties, complements Adebimpe with a weirdly effective falsetto. Like its predecessor, there are horns and strings – taking a more passive role, they peek out from behind the layers as if they appeared there of their own will.

Especially through the first half, Return to Cookie Mountain drives forward with magnetic intensity. “Wolf Like Me” stands out as particularly captivating, with some of the best chanting pop around. Melody – the most fascinating aspect of the album – is elusive as it is strong; swooping in and out of fuzzy, looping backgrounds like a swallow from a bridge. TVOTR speaks confidently, pulling with sadness and pushing with elation, fundamentally different than everything around it. It’s hip in that unreflective, internal way, and that while that probably isn’t their goal, it surely can’t hurt.

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