Review: TV on the Radio – Seeds

It’s almost absurd that I have waited this long to formally write up a review of Seeds considering how often I have listened to it since it was released last month.  This can be explained by the tension between how difficult it has been for me to attempt to intellectualize my love this album and how easy it has been just to cue it up on my iPod or keep it playing in my car stereo.  So while I struggle where to objectively rank it within the TV on the Radio discography, I will at least declare how goddamn fun and beautiful and brilliant this album is.

TV on the Radio kick off Seeds seemingly mid-song with “Quartz”, a seemingly sly acknowledgement that while this has been the longest gap between records in their career so far, they have still been busy in the meantime, upheaval within the group and all (and taking it a step further from their similar gambit from Nine Types of Light, which began with “Second Song”).  From there, the band slides easily into a joyous and ebullient first half, with the one-two punch of the sweet “Careful You” and the jubilant “Could You”.  The latter is possibly the most irrepressible song in the band’s deep catalog, with its catchy melody line and brash backing horns (as well as an early lead guitar line that mimics those horns beautifully in a nifty bit of foreshadowing).  “Happy Idiot” follows, and though not the highlight of the album, it’s easy to see why it was chosen for the lead single–it has a great hook, nice groove, and a driving beat that fits comfortably within a radio playlist but is still able to distinguish itself with some subtly intriguing touches (such as the “hey-hey-hey”-like sound effects leading into the chorus).  Looking at the song from the context of the album as a whole, it also serves as a fulcrum between the different halves of the record, as one can sense some of the tinges of sadness that dominate the second side.

Seeds lulls a bit in the middle with the trio of “Test Pilot”, “Love Stained”, and “Ride”, though this is intentional.  “Test Pilot” is a touching ballad that rests in a downbeat groove, with “Love Stained” tweaks the formula by riding an illusory double-time hi-hat/half-beat groove combo, creating an undercurrent of tension and serves as one of several instances of a push-and-pull dynamic that is found throughout the record.  “Ride” is seemingly set up as the centerpiece of the album, with its two distinct halves–the first part is a slow gorgeous instrumental ballad that recalls a major chord version of Nine Inch Nails’s “The Frail” mixed with the lushness of the band’s own “Family Tree”, before switching gears into a second part that’s a bouncy and buoyant pop rock song, driven by an insistent Krautrock-like motorik drumbeat that brings to mind early-era Secret Machines that sets up the rest of the album.

With their buzzsaw guitars, “Winter” and “Lazerray” find TV on the Radio rocking out harder than ever.  The former uses a half-time beat in a similar fashion to “Love Stained”, creating the illusion as if the band is fighting through an invisible force attempting to drag them down, while the latter finds the band just flat-out letting loose in the most punk-rock fashion they’ve done since “Wolf Like Me”.  The album closes out with the bittersweet “Trouble” and the hopeful title track, and it’s then that the album’s true theme pushes through, that of rebirth in the face of loss.  After the death of bassist Gerard Smith, it wasn’t set in stone that the band would return, but it’s clear that TV on the Radio are working through the loss of a beloved friend.  The overall result is a record that hits all possible emotions, but in a way that is consistently engaging and repeatable.

As for the original conundrum, I’m still not sure it matches the creative brilliance of their debut desperate youth, blood thirsty babes or Dear Science, it’s still more consistent than Return to Cookie Mountain and Nine Types of Light, though there is no single song that is the equal of “Wolf Like Me” or “Killer Crane”.  I find it surprising that while the reviews of the album are still quite good, critics are ranking Seeds significantly below their previous work.  Despite this, my prediction is that as people play the album more and more, its charms will become more apparent and its reputation will grow.

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