Tuesday, March 20, 2007

TV on the Radio at the Metro, March 13th

Last Tuesday night, TV on the Radio put on a show. How to describe the exhibition is something I've been failing miserably at for the past seven days. How to describe the sound of TVOTR - especially of their latest release, Return to Cookie Mountain - is something I've been failing at for the past seven months. So with that in mind, let's see if I can fail miserably one more time.

(Disclosure: I've been waiting a few days to write this in the hopes that the brain cells killed by the Jack & Cokes consumed the night of the show would have been resurrected by now. No such luck.)

(Disclosure #2: I don't really know names of songs. For that matter, I don't really pay attention to lyrics. It's a shame, really, especially since once I do get around to figuring out lyrics to songs I like, they happen to be rather brilliant. But I go strictly on tone; if I like the tone or feeling or vibe of the music - with the vocals strictly as another instrument - then I tend to like the band. Then, usually months later, I'll open my ears and eyes to the lyrics. Clearly I'm a professional rock critic.)

(Disclosure #3: In reference to Disclosure #2, this really only applies for rock music. For Hip Hop, lyrics always seem to come first. But that's a whole other blog...)

So I would tell people, "Hey, I'm going to see TV on the Radio tonight" and the standard response was "Who?" and then "What do they sound like?" Normally I tend to be talented at the Familiar-Artist-meets-Other-Familiar-Artist comparison game. For example, "the new Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album sounds like The Velvet Underground meets Talking Heads". Get it? Right, well that doesn't come so easily for me when referring to TVOTR for some reason. I don't even know what so-called genre they fit into. I've recently heard them called Art-Rock, whatever that means (as if denegrading all non- art-rock as non-artistic). And they don't seem to fit into the classic idea of what Indie Rock means - they sure as hell don't sound like The Shins.

Inherently, my inability to pigeonhole an artist automatically results in me holding said artist to a higher esteem. In other words, TV on the Radio is SO GOOD, that we don't even have a category to box them in. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to categorize every damn thing we ever experience, but hey, we're humans. It's what we do.

That said, watching them perform live last week actually inspired - not a genre to neatly fit them in, necessarily - but at least an idea for the comparison game. Perhaps this will make sense to no one, but the thought that popped into my (aforementioned whiskey-soaked) brain, was: My Bloody Valentine meets Ray Charles. That's right - the only way I've figured out how to categorize TVOTR is to compare them to two other artists that no one has been able to categorize. While their sound reminded me vaguely of MBV, it was this comparison to Ray Charles that has stuck in my mind. There was something so uplifting, so elevating, so dynamic to the energy that I couldn't help feeling the emotions granted to believers in church, the stuff of Gospel music. (Disclosure #4: I realize that four-fifths of the band happens to be black dudes, but I promise that this isn't the reason I've associated them with Gospel.) But just like Ray Charles took Gospel and made it new - made it his own - so too does TVOTR create a new sound with what has come before. And really, that is all Art even is - take something old and make it new.

A good reason why TVOTR has the capabilities to do this is thanks to the amazing vocals. Vocalists Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone compliment each other like peanut butter and banana - maybe not what you were expecting, but damn that's tasty. Their vocals come at you with an element of surprise, both the first time you hear their albums, and even more so live, when they somehow manage to mesh the yelps with the falsetto screams just as splendidly as they capture them in the studio. And that jolt feels like a call to action, or at least a call to pay attention.

No problem there. I think I may even go look up their lyrics.

1 comment:

Champ said...

Dude that guys fro is awesome. He could play Warrant covers and I'd still want to check it out.

Of course, there's no reason why he'd ever do that, but it would really entertaining.