It doesn’t happen often, but from time to time, a band will come along and make a record that sounds unlike anything you’ve ever heard. They’ll eschew all of the overused indie rock clichés (i.e. lo-fi production, out of tune guitars) and come out of the studio with a fresh set of norm-defying experimental pop music that is strangely accessible and endlessly intriguing. TV on the Radio is just such a band.
TV on the Radio (Tunde Adebimpe and David Sitek, to be exact) make music that no other indie artists are making, without going so far as to venture into Himalayan throat singing or polka. Every song on their debut EP, Young Liars contains elements of disparate genres — shoegazer, trip-hop, doo-wop — without ever falling completely into any of those categories. It might even be appropriate to call TV on the Radio’s music a hybrid, but that would be too pedestrian a description for music this forward-thinking.
The EP begins with “Satellite,” a mix of fuzzed-out bass, marching drumbeats and near-barbershop harmonies. At first listen it bears a faint resemblance to Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio,” though with a far darker and dingier sound, reflecting the themes of disconnection and dread that fell upon New York after the World Trade Center attacks. Adebimpe sings, “I’m waitin’ for a signal or a sound/where can you be found now/where can you be found now, my love” in a swelling chorus that’s as catchy as it is mesmerizing, more ecstatic than desperate.
“Staring at the Sun” would be the obvious choice for a single, opening with some simple vocal harmonies before that fuzzy bass creeps back in to the mix. A simple disco beat is the foundation for the tune, while Sitek adds some angular guitar riffs. When all elements are combined, the end result is a hearty stew of sound, equally stunning on a pair of headphones or through a high end car stereo.
A true testament to TV on the Radio’s innovation is the closing “hidden” track — an a cappella cover of The Pixies’ “Mr. Grieves.” It shouldn’t work, and in the hands of any other artist, it wouldn’t, but somehow Adebimpe creates a stunningly beautiful vocal composition out of Black Francis’ fractured fairy tale. It’s about twice as long as the original, and twice as eerie. Adebimpe’s multi-tracked voice fades in, like the ghost of a barbershop quartet coming to haunt the hipsters. It’s a work of pure genius.
Young Liars is everything you’d want in a debut, save for its brevity. Five songs just aren’t enough to satisfy the jones it will provoke, but it’s a Hell of a teaser until the full-length comes out.
Interpol – Turn on The Bright Lights
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Peter Gabriel – Security
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.