Critical backlash is a bitch. When TV on the Radio released their debut EP, Young Liars, it was hailed as a masterpiece, yielding almost universal acclaim. But their first proper full-length, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, has been met with tepid reviews. The same critics that lauded Liars are calling Babes “directionless” and “a work in progress,” while claiming the band is still “finding their sound.” I don’t know if any of these reviewers got the same CD I did, but the one I listened to is definitely not a work in progress. And it’s fucking HOT.
To be fair, there are many differences between Liars and Babes. The former was produced in such a way to sound flawless, a sublime concoction of seamless sounds that was otherworldly but familiar. The latter however, is more raw, more human and ultimately the sound of a band, rather than a studio.
To make the transition from EP to album, the Brooklyn trio included Young Liars‘ “Staring at the Sun” on the album. Save for an edited intro, the song is essentially the same as on the EP — jaw-droppingly beautiful and strangely catchy and danceable. But to say that the rest of the album isn’t up to the quality of “Staring” is to sell some brilliant material short.
Opener “The Wrong Way” rides a fuzzed-out, galloping bassline and funky saxophone squeals while vocalist Tunde Adebimpe sings “I woke up in a magic nigger movie,” bucking the Hollywood stereotype of black man as mystical curiosity, while exploring the duality of rappers wearing diamonds mined by African children, as displayed in the lyric “oh the bling drips down.” Third track “Dreams” is one of a few songs that actually warrants comparisons to New York nü-gazers like Interpol. Guitars melt into My Bloody Valentine-like washes of diaphanous sound while Kyp Malone adds some high-pitched harmonies to Adebimpe’s vocals.
Those looking for more a capella, a la Young Liars‘ “Mr. Grieves,” should be thrilled to hear “Ambulance,” another of Tunde’s vocals-only showcases. And the damn thing is stunning—I might go so far as to say it’s the best song on the album. “Ambulance” is a love song, but certainly not a conventional one, as Adebimpe croons, “I will be your crutch and cast/if you will be my screech and crash/sweet dream/fall for me.” In it’s oddly phrased sentiment, it’s TVOTR’s sweetest song and proof of just how truly gifted a singer Adebimpe is.
Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes is a thrilling release by a band who have not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them. Some may be put off by its wildly varied nature, but in the ears of this humble reviewer, it’s near perfect, if not completely. Never before has music sounded this alive.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.