TV on the Radio's Return 

TV on the Radio and Return to Cookie Mountain satisfy bloggers, the mainstream, and everyone in between.

TV on the Radio is having a moment of beauty and light. The band's major-label debut, Return to Cookie Mountain, officially out for less than a month, is perhaps the only album currently agreed upon as mind-blowing by Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. The joy of audience participation during the band's tour (it's been around the world since April) is remarkably different than anything I've ever seen. But multi-instrumentalist and producer Dave Sitek says it wasn't so many years ago that he and vocalist Tunde Adebimpe were jobless and selling paintings on the street in Brooklyn.

The early financial and emotional support the two received from friends inform their current success in the MySpace and iPod era. Sitek is a self-described junkie for the belief system of "paying it forward," and is on a quest to proliferate that idea as much as to pack concert halls.

"If you're lucky enough to harness the resources to create something stupendous in your life, and if you're to get anything out of that, rather than give it back to the person who gave it to you, you give it to the next person who could really use that, and with the intention of them not returning it to you," Sitek explains.

"I think adopting that kind of mentality is what made bands like us, Celebration, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars ... everyone gives everything of themselves," he says, counting engineers and studio workers among the "thirty to forty people who believe in what we do" as members of the band. The fruits of these reciprocal relationships show themselves on Return's production and are felt in the heady vibrations of the band's live shows.

Return is a strange album — often uplifting, sometimes spooky, a sealed-with-a-sloppy-kiss lust letter filled with depth and promising mischief. While Sitek admits that TV on the Radio is its label Interscope's promotional guinea pig, he's pleased that the new model of exposure is what generates interest so often among friends and communities. "A band like us getting known and supported so widely is promising because it means you don't have to sing specifically about girl problems, and [you'll] still make a record that people will hear," he says.

"On MySpace, there are bands saying equally strange and beautiful things," he continues. "People want that kind of music, they want to be communicated with. They don't want to feel alone anymore. I think that level of honesty is willed in every one of us right now."

Written collaboratively by Sitek, Adebimpe, and guitarist and vocalist Kyp Malone, Return's songs are idealistic and literate (Your rusty heart will be fine/in its tell-tale time) without feeling pretentious, and political and psychedelic without feeling like a hippie campfire (even during the album's halfway mark of dueling, Animal Collective-like jams). The guitars are just too scorching and soaring — in a Nick Zinner or Thurston Moore style — and the sonics too electronic to characterize a band not firmly in the present.

Sitek admits that he likes Rumi's poetry, but his favorite quote is e.e. cummings' The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. "It showed me that language is so arbitrary, and it's totally flexible," he says. Cummings also wrote, "I imagine that 'yes' is the only living thing" — a worldview evident in TV on the Radio's creative approach. Yes to friends, yes to speaking up, yes to being here now. In "Playhouses," Adebimpe sings, Beneath the cigarettes and sugar shit of alcohol breath/I can taste the ocean on your tongue. That striving to move through static to reach a beautiful essence is — ironically — best illustrated through the band's layers of noise. They just happen to also be beautiful.


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