Thursday, May 6, 2004

Tops on my stereo lately has been the debut album by TV on the Radio , "Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes," a New York-based trio. Their sound is hard to describe, but it's almost like a kind of industrial doo-wop, or a clash between Radiohead and an a capella act. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe channels Peter Gabriel in his stretching, yearning soul vocals, and the band's sound is heavy -- deep, throbbing guitars, bass and looping noises combine in a wall of rising sound, overlaid by the sweet, soulful singing.

I've been having the propulsive end-of-love anthem "Dreams" run through my head the last two days. It's a catapult of noise, with an addictive chorus, swelling guitar solos out of some great lost U2 track, and scat singing you feel compelling to join in. It's the best track on the CD for me so far, and a marvel. Also noteworthy are the opening track "The Wrong Way," a grind of beats overlaid with falsetto singing and hints of horns that reminded me of the band Morphine. "Staring At The Sun" is another winner, a moody, meditative ode to doomsday.

I'm also getting into the peppier "Ambulance," the only straight a capella track on the disc, with a witty chorus -- "I will be your accident if you will be my ambulance / and I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast." And "Poppy" is a straight synthesis of all the band's sound, thumping beats, vocal solos and symphonic interludes crashing in a heap. The lyrics are often fascinating -- as a band that's 2/3 African-American but that doesn't fit into most "traditional" images of modern black music, TV on the Radio has a questing, thoughtful feel, shot through with musical confidence.

The band are also conceptual artists, and there's a lot of visual imagery in their songs. A few tunes skirt the edge of pretentiousness. I do think the album falls down some in the second half, with the songs good but lacking the drama and pulse of the first numbers. Still, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes" " is addictive listening, and well worth seeking out.

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