The last time around, we piled up a bunch of referents and adjectives attempting to do justice to TV On the Radio's Return of Cookie Mountain, when most of us were really trying to hide what we really thought of the album's second half ("Peter Gabriel circa 1977 singing atop Lust for Life-esque grooves with symphonic pretensions," I wrote in 2006, for the record).
With arrangements every bit as clotted as Cookie Mountain's, the new Dear Science is TVotR's DOR move, its groove more sensuous and buoyant than I ever thought these guys capable of. Fuck Radiohead: the layering of programmed over real-time percussion, the horn sections, the oily lines of Fender Rhodes, and the full-throated vocal attack of Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone evoke a party at ground zero; this thing never lets up, cedes not an inch to comprehensibility. Which is to say: I know what the songs are about, but I credit the music, not the intelligent bricolage coming from Malone and Adebimpe's mouths. I won't go all Greil Marcus and project the sociopolitical moment onto Dear Science, but this is clearly product meant for projection. I don't read the title "Dear Science" as a greeting so much as an endearment: in creating a record this luxurious, this beholden to the plenitude of the modern recording studio, TVotR mourn the collapse of an economic system to which they remain grateful, even though they limn the gratitude with enough self-loathing to fund a hundred other indie-rock bands. My favorite track, "DLZ," works because Adebimpe, summoning the John Lennon of "How Do You Sleep?", blasts a "death professor" for the mess he's made of things. Too scattershot to stoop to the usual indie-rock trope of confusing personal for global apocalypse (one line goes "This is the beginning to feel like the long-winded blues of the never"), it gathers its strength from an anger that's too fierce for containment. This is the real "Wolf Like Me."