splendid > reviews > 3/2/2004
TV On the Radio
TV On the Radio
Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
Touch and Go

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Staring at the Sun"

Buy me now
There's going to be a lot of fuss about this record in the coming months. Zine writers will slobber over it. Critics from high-profile free alternative weekly papers will jockey for position around it, eager to be the first to dismiss it, rediscover it, and then somehow connect the group to Justin Timberlake, while thousands of remora-like, self-referential weblogs repeat those machinations in miniature, extending them to fractal-level detail. Even the glossy entertainment mags will take note, because hey, TVoTR make a great photo op -- they're just a wool cap and a scowling Dutch chick away from being a United Colors of Bennetton ad.

In a 2003 interview for this very publication, TVoTR vocalist Tunde Adebimpe promised that his group would get "infinitely weirder" on future releases. They're definitely on the right road. Don't forget, this is a band in which two of the three members (Adebimpe and Kyp Malone) are credited with providing tape loops, while core member and resident equipment hoarder Dave Sitek is responsible merely for "music", so you'd be correct to assume that Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes depends as much upon atmosphere as it does upon conventional songwriting. Rock, soul, R&B and even a sort of otherworldly doo-wop are jarred loose from their conventional contextual moorings and subjected to a focused heat that cooks everything -- guitars, a capella vocals, trilling flute, battered sax, smeary loops -- into a dense, tarlike musical paste, which the trio duly spreads across nine tracks.

Familiar elements crop up regularly, but their placement is off-center. "Staring at the Sun" shines po-mo soul through a Loveless prism and jolts it with "Bizarre Love Triangle" beats; Katrina Ford's powerful vocals give the song an emotional center, reminding us that actual humans performed this studio wizardry. "Ambulance" gets its point across in a rainbow of processed vocal harmonies, hiding its fatalistic lyrics ("I will be your accident if you will be my ambulance / and I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast") behind the good-natured swagger of a street-corner quartet. "Poppy"'s celebration of "unregulated" love takes every element over the top -- the drums dominate the mix, a feedback-coated riff-loop expands to fill the midrange, and the over-sweetened falsetto vocals poke through wherever the tightly woven melodic skein allows it. Turned up loud enough, it's an exhaustingly gleeful assault upon the senses.

We've heard these elements before, but never arranged in quite this fashion. To their considerable credit, TVoTR don't run out of innovation before they run out of songs, so even "Wear You Out"'s final minutes, during which a flute, a sax and various oscillating tones bang away at each other, are inventive and enticing. You'll want to know how they made these sounds, and what made the group decide to stick them together in this particular order, and why TV on the Radio's ideas speak so readily to your brain and your heart and your gonads, when so many other bands slave away their own Brooklyn lofts and produce stiff, sterile, stillborn non-art. Maybe that's where the "infinite weirdness" comes in.

Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is a wide-eyed, virile urban fever dream, full of lust and violence and death and dreams and explosions. It may wear you out, or even scare you off, but it's not an experience you should miss. There's going to be a lot of fuss over this record, but it deserves it.



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