Season 4, Episode 12
January 19th, 2012
Watch this episode on Hulu Plus.
Sexual tension between characters in Parks and Recreation is like sexual tension between your friends- You can't wait until they shut up and screw. Shutting up being the important part. After putzing along for the back half of season three, harping on the supposed impossibility of Ben and Leslie's relationship, then resolving it only to reopen the can of worms immediately in season four, the writers finally let the two get together and now the show can, at long last, move on.
I've never been partial to so-called "heart" in comedies, as I tend to like my humor a little dark, but once P&R stops playing the will-they-or-won't-they game (of course they will), the show is terrific at mining laughs from the altered social roles. Specifically I'm thinking of Leslie's "Barack Obama said 'Yes we can!' and now he's the president of the United States. Ben Wyatt said 'No we can't' and now he's working for his girlfriend.'
This willingness on the writers' part to allow the status quo to evolve is one of the factors that constantly impresses me about the series. As much as I complain about the doting on relationship strife, it must be admitted that the writers don't milk those relationships for a frustratingly long time, as The Office did with Jim and Pam for three seasons, or as they're desperately trying to recapture with the thoroughly uninteresting Andy and Erin. Andy and April's marriage, Ben moving in with them, and Tom's departure to Entertainment 720 have all been pleasant surprises. This sort of organic evolution makes Parks and Rec feel more real than other sitcoms, which are content to convince us that an ensemble cast will remain in the exact same situation for 7+ years.
That appreciation in mind, I truly hope that the plot in which Chris attempts to replace Ben with Ron is explored. Nick Offerman and Rob Lowe have a great on-screen chemistry which has, to this point, been largely unexplored. I loved the continuity in Ron's attempt to block Chris out of his office with the automatic door remote that Leslie gave him for Christmas. His muffled frustration when Chris got in just in time was palpable.
I've gone on a while now without mentioning Paul Rudd. There's always a danger bringing a big actor onto a quaint show like this, in that the guest star can be too much of a distraction. Rudd, however, has such an unassuming (and in this case, moronic) everyman quality to him that I found him to be an outstanding addition to this episode. His entire performance was so monochromatically self-entitled; I noticed upon rewatching that as he takes the podium in the cold open he says "Thanks, guy!" with boyish glee to the campaign speaker who introduced him. Of course Bobby Newport doesn't know the names of his own campaign (Sorry, campleasure) staff. I really look forward to watching this character in future episodes.
Speaking of which, I found the campleasure moment to be out of character for Leslie. She cringes as if she recognizes just how terrible a joke Newport just made, but it's just the sort of terrible pun I could see Leslie herself making while onlookers grimaced. By the end of the episode, Bobby Newport seems like such a bonehead that he's probably capable of much worse quips.
Unfortunately that wasn't the only out of character moment of the night. Let me just take a moment to ask: What has happened to Tom Haverford? Ever since the episode where he had to come to terms with being back in the Parks department, he's been either absent or forgettable, and tonight he was peculiarly un-Tom. His entire theory about kissing up to Leslie and Ben (because he bets on every horse) lacked motivation. In the past Tom has always been extremely candid, even rude to his superiors. Why was he holding back now? I would expect the Tom of the past to be the first person to shoot down Leslie's abysmal campaign ad, for example.
The reason his kiss-ass approach is so out of the blue is that for him nothing is actually at stake. No matter whose campaign video wins, he still has the same role at the office and in the campaign. If there had actually been some sort of significant power struggle occurring I could understand Tom taking care not to curry favor with the wrong party, but this plot felt extraneous, as if the writers had no idea what to do with Tom. This is a shame, because Aziz Ansari has been such a dependable player in the past.
By far my favorite scene of the episode- and probably my favorite scene in a while- was the Jerry/Ben/Tom scene where they practiced the voice acting for the slam ad. This sort of shameless silliness is what Parks and Rec thrives on, and where it really shines.
Overall a very solid episode. The campaign looks as if it will prove to be a great ongoing plotline. I wonder- Does P&R's aforementioned penchant for character evolution allow for the possibility of Leslie being elected city counselman? Maybe season 5 (hoepfully there will be a Season 5) will feature all of these characters in a new office? This would be a great way to introduce some new characters and really shake things up. It would also allow for an interesting new dynamic in which Leslie is Ron and Chris' superior. Let's see some balls, writers.
- I loved the look on the campaign security guy's face when Bobby asked "I'm running unopposed, aren't I?"
-Andy worries about eating a Twix wrapper and then never seeing it come out the other end. As a fecal expert, I don't think he has anything to worry about. It could have been broken into segments or completely concealed. Someone should tell him.
-Jerry takes a lot of flak this week after having secured a pretty substantial crowd at last week's ice rink presentation. Cut the guy a break.
-Pretty disappointing Andy/April plot this week.
- I spent a good 10 minutes pausing hulu and copying down all of the things Leslie Knope approves of. I should have known that the folks at Buzzfeed would save me the trouble. Here are some of the highlights:
Better Better Business Bureau
Shutting Down the Child Left Behind Act
One police officer for every 5 citizens
One park ranger for every 10,000 raccoons
One school for every student
Regulate height of trampolines
Memorial for those lost in the trampoline "incident"
"Fewer Libraries" is a pretty terrific slam aimed at Tammy 2, the evil librarian.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Friday, January 20, 2012
Sorry to keep you two readers on the edge of your seat for a couple days. Here's my top four albums of 2011.
#4- Radiohead, "The King of Limbs" (Ticker Tape Ltd)
If Radiohead has proved one thing over the second half of their twenty year career, it's that they don't give a fuck what their audience thinks. After garnering a large following in the '90s thanks to the post-grunge hits "Creep", "High and Dry", "Just", and "Karma Police" (among others), Thom Yorke and his posse took a drastic 180 with 2000's extremely experimental "Kid A" and never looked back.
This caused quite a remarkable response; "Kid A" and it's two successors were critically shrugged off and openly reviled by longtime fans, but sales were through the roof. Indeed, Radiohead is often referenced as one of the most capable and groundbreaking bands in current music, despite the fact that you'd be hard pressed to find a glowing review of any their albums since "OK Computer" back in 1997. Why is this?
A few years ago I ran across this Onion article from 2001. To some Onion reader who hadn't gone through this gritty process of getting to know a Radiohead album, I'm sure this blurb was completely unentertaining. For the several hundred thousand people who bought "Kid" upon its release only to groan and put it aside, it was a frank documentation of their own first year with the album.
Radiohead albums are like the Stanley Kubrick films of their generation and media, in that they not only go unappreciated for a time after their release, but also inspire disgust. In the initial Rolling Stone review of the album, journalist David Fricke, though more appreciative of the release than many of his colleagues, still accredits it some monumental faults. "This is pop? Radiohead are a rock band", Fricke scowls. He concludes, "There are times...when the record seems absolutely airless, entombed in chrome." An unflattering assessment indeed. Yet eight years later, what album should find itself in the #1 spot on Rolling Stone's albums of the decade?
It baffles me, then, that audiences continue to shrug aside new Radiohead releases like this year's "The King of Limbs". Mocking the release for its brevity (8 tracks clocking in at just over 37 minutes) and its minimalism, you'd think this group's fanbase would have learned by now.
When I first heard the album, I will admit to feeling underwhelmed. In fact, the album made me feel nothing. At the time I was doing some diving in the beautiful Seychelles, and "Limbs"' empty beats and shameless repetition did not exactly jive with my easy-living tropical state of mind.
I was lucky enough, however, to be surrounded by Brits at the time. I haven't officially checked, but I'm fairly sure that Radiohead fandom is a prerequisite for British citizenship. Due to their persistence to get to know the album, I was able to come around to it, and now it's probably in my top 3 Radiohead releases.
The approach of the album is to reveal melodies and beats slowly through repetition. In this release, every song is a pyramid song (and I mean that in a structural context, not in allusion to the Amnesiac single), coyly revealing its juicy bits sparingly. As with any Radiohead album, your appreciation for it will likely not set in during a listen. Rather, you walk away from it, flustered after not uncovering its secrets on listen number five or six, and you'll find when you're away that the songs have gotten under your skin, and you need to go back.
Amidst the small amount of listeners who have embraced the album there is a divide, as well. Many people believe that one half of the album is superior to the other- The first half, full of some of the band's most experimental tracks, is certainly a fairly inaccessible access point. For me, however, it is far superior to the album's back half, which while brilliant seems to be trying to recreate the seductive ambience of "In Rainbows", a futile act.
Where "Limbs" really shines through is its altered subject matter. An early reviewer of the album noted that "the angst is gone", and that absence is what makes the album such a pleasant listen. For the first time in twenty years, the songs lack an undecurrent of depressive thought, and instead are more aesthetically dedicated. It's a refreshing change as a listener, as the album is proof that Radiohead is still capable of fruitful, dramatic evolution.
This has been an atypical review, in that I have not mentioned a single song off of the album specifically. That is really the way a Radiohead album should be observed. More so than most other bands, Radiohead's albums are flowing, coherent, and interdependent pieces. Having likely already heard "Lotus Flower" and seen Thom Yorke dancing like he's having a seizure, you've drawn your own conclusions. However, with this band, a song is anything but representative of the work from which it derives.
Essential Tracks: Wait, didn't you hear what I just said?
#3- Bon Iver, "Bon Iver"...Bon Iver? (Jagjaguwar)
DC or Marvel should make a graphic novel series in which Justin Vernon is the hipster superhero. The man started out with a mysterious origin story: Armed only with a guitar and some books, Vernon retreated to a remote cabin in the deep freeze of Wisconsin for months on end. When he emerged, he boasted a thick beard, an earthy lifestyle, and some beautiful recordings. These recordings would soon become his celebrated album, "For Emma, Forever Ago".
His newfound superpower after his return was the ability to spread the hipsterdom, despite not being a particularly pretentious or clean-living individual himself. The man was more of a carrier of the hipster disease, able to spread it effortlessly without necessarily succumbing to it himself. Vernon has stated many times that his sojourn in the Wisconsin winter was not as romanticized as the Bon Iver myth would have you believe. He had electricity, he used the phone, he went on the internet from time to time. But the hipster population of the world sees what they want to, and continue to interpret his lifestyle as some sort of statement, instead of assuming that a man can go to a wintry cabin simply because it's a pleasant place to be.
The word "masterpiece" was bandied around a lot (too much) when "Emma" came out. Like most cinematic superheroes, however, Vernon's second outing blew his first out of the water. His eponymous release (double-eponymous?) is his Dark Knight, his Spider Man 2, to "Emma"'s Batman Begins/Spider Man 1. In his first album, Vernon established an identity with a very basic, if entrancing sound. In the years that followed, hipsters the world round tried desperately to emulate his simple yet delightful formula, to mixed effects.
As if to stay ahead of the crowd, Vernon has expanded his repertoire greatly in his second effort, incorporating a supporting band which not only backs him up, but which he relies on heavily in many songs.
There are moments that mirror the gentle simplicity of his first album. "Holocene", for one, sounds as if it could have been ripped straight off of "Emma". Even so, "Holocene" would have been one of the best, if not the best track off of that album had it been present. In the rare moments where Vernon does step backwards, his stylistically similar material is structurally and melodically superior to his past work.
The best track on the album, "Towers", dips into a childhood nostalgia for summer days and youthful daydreams. Really, the entire album is about daydreams and fantasy, each track named after a place Vernon holds dear to him, or of a place he dreams of someday going. The opener "Perth" has a gentle melody which holds within it a hopefulness and a celebration. The fictitious location is unattainable, and thus Vernon's perfect image of it can never be sullied. No wonder the album's cover, depicting a majestic landscape, is so calming and inviting.
This optimistic tone is a promising progression away from the more reflective and regretful "Emma". It seems as if this great new artist is just now hitting his groove, and hopefully in 2012 we will see that this Hipster Knight Rises.
Essential Tracks: "Perth", "Holocene", "Towers"
#2- M83, "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" (M83 Recording Inc.)
Unlike last year, there's no general consensus on the top album of the year. As the AV Club pointed out in their top albums list earlier in the month, their 15 or so journalists all picked separate top albums of the year. Last year, it was widely agreed upon that Kanye West's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" had swept in at the last minute to irrefutably steal the #1 spot. As such, most of the real battling went on in the #2-5 slots.
Although there's not a unanimous frontrunner this year, there are several albums that have the makings of a best album. Generally the albums that win on these lists are sprawling, diverse, bombastic efforts, and there was no shortage of those this year.
Take M83's "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" an 80's-retro jubilee of synthesizers and space age vocals. The frenchman Anthony Gonzalez has dropped ambitious electronic efforts on us in the past, but never anything with such a gleeful , carefree energy. Compare his last album's ("Saturdays=Youth") single "We Own the Sky" to almost anything off of "Hurry Up" and the difference is apparent. While singles like this were sonically exciting and decidedly retro, they had a contemplative aspect to them that too often brought a somber tone to the work.
Now look at this album's lead single, "Midnight City" (the video below). If the Throne's "Niggas in Paris" was the most culturally relevant song of the year, "Midnight City" is the best song of the year. In true M83 fashion, the lyrics are soothing if somewhat hard to parse, and the instrumentals are gripping in their simplicity. In this four-note melody (you know what four notes I mean), Gonzalez has found the most infectious refrain this side of the top 40. Like so many simple riffs from history ("Superstition" comes to mind), this is bound to live on for years, being chopped and rearranged in a feeble attempt to duplicate this song's intoxicating ambience.
What's truly amazing about the song is that it does seem to conjure images of a city in nighttime. It's an unexplainable phenomenon, but everyone seems to agree that the song itself feels like rolling through a shining but silent metropolis. This sort of powerful imagery is not an easy feat, and this gem of a song must be cherished.
This isn't to say that "Midnight City" goes unrivaled. Songs like "Reunion", "OK Pal", and the berserkly named "Steve McQueen" (More on him soon) riff masterfully on the album's unique aesthetic. This, like "Fantasy", and like the #1 album, is organized into intentional lulls and crescendos, rewarding climaxes and movements. All of its 70 minutes feels organic, a rare example of the well executed double album.
Essential Tracks: "Midnight City", "OK Pal", "Steve McQueen"
#1- Fucked Up, "David Comes to Life"
It's not every day that you run across a pretentious punk band. By which I mean, I have never run across a pretentious punk band until now. It sounds like an unpleasant combination, doesn't it?
Well, it's not unpleasant. In fact, Fucked Up's condescending attitude about punk is what allows them to be so extremely good. You probably don't like punk music, as most people, young or old, seem to have a general problem with all punk. I'm sort of the same way; after overcoming a Linkin Park phase when I was 15, I've stayed away from bands with a frontman possessing anything fiercer than a gutteral growl.
What Fucked Up has suggested in the interviews that labeled them pretentious essentially mirrors the distaste that the general populace has for the genre. They've stated that the majority of punk is an overzealous, underdesigned mess, an intriguing point. After these claims were made, critics naturally asked, "Pray tell, Fucked Up, how does one make subtler punk music?"
"David Comes To Life" is Fucked Up's answer to that query. It is a punk album with screamy vocals and blaring instrumentals, but it's also so much more. The album is truly a blend of different eras and genres of rock. The opener, "Let Her Rest", for example, is a well-paced instrumental that suggests that anything but a punk album will follow.
Fucked Up is masterful at eschewing the pitfalls which normally plague the genre- There's no gratuitous screaming, or intentionally cacophonous instrumentals. Every word conveys a part of the story, and the guitarist and bassist have no greed for the limelight. Sonically, the instruments are often filtered in just as strongly as the vocals, but they're always a background piece, carrying the melody selflessly.
The album is the most complete fruition of a concept album I have ever seen. The tracks chronicle the unfolding narrative of two politically motivated lovers in 19th Century Britain. As per the tradition of rock operas, the narrative is extremely complex. While at first daunting, this makes "David" a rewarding repeat listen, as you'll find yourself perceiving different characters and plot threads the more time you give it. Admittedly, I don't even have my mind wrapped around the whole ordeal yet. I eagerly await the (hopefully) inevitable day when this album is turned into a musical, as it sounds like the soundtrack to a fantastic post-modern piece.
If you were to give someone an instrumental copy of "David", they certainly would not think it was a punk album. They would probably assume it was pretty radio-friendly, in fact. The punk vocals don't detract from these instrumentals so much as they cause the listener to view them in a new light.
Therein lies the real strength of the album- Each song, despite being one chapter in a much larger saga, can aesthetically stand alone, and they're some of the best tracks of the year. The album is truly an oddity, and will likely reach a larger audience as time goes on, being that it's just so goddam irresistible.
Essential Tracks: "Queen of Hearts", "The Other Shoe", "Turn the Season", "Serves Me Right"
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
I've decided to start writing reviews here again. This is not so much because I think that anyone will really read them, but rather because it will help me to hone my abilities as a reviewer. The content I will be reviewing should generally fall into two categories: Either media which I have come across that I feel the need to write about, or media which I have been eagerly awaiting.
To jump start this new page in the BWF saga, I'll be writing some "Best of 2011" lists, as per the tradition of every website in existence. I personally find these lists extremely helpful, and read probably ten to fifteen of them every year. It's convenient to be able to cut past the usual drag of blindly consuming new releases, and instead work off of these recommendation compilations/
Given that anyone who reads this blog is probably a very good friend of mine, you may not enjoy these 2011 lists, as there will be few surprises. I do, after all, have a habit of singing the praises of anything I find exhilarating, usually without being prompted. I sometimes think that I may be the definition of word-of-mouth advertising (done often annoyingly and to the detriment of the media, but still).
In any case, my first list is my top albums of 2011. Instead of going with a round number, I've decided to list the eight albums which for me defined 2011. Here are numbers 5-8, with the top four to come soon.
8. Frank Ocean, "Nostalgia/Ultra" (Self-released)
2011 saw a major evolution in the definition of the word "mixtape". In previous years, a mixtape was a shorter, more out-of-the-box version of an album in which established hip hop artists would usually sample other artists' beats. For the most part, the mixtape was a letdown, as it failed to compare to the big production feel of the mainstream album.
If ever there was a time to be a nobody, it was 2011. Suddenly mixtapes such as Frank Ocean's "Nostalgia/Ultra" and The Weeknd's trilogy of releases proved that the internet was a successful vehicle by which to get your music known, and not by a single song on you Myspace, but an entire release.
This isn't to say that Ocean was a nobody before the release of "Nostalgia". On the contrary, he had saturated the net several years ago with dozens of slow love-croons (for a time under the moniker "Lonnie Breaux") which made something of a splash. More recently he aligned himself with Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, who weren't making a splash so much as poisoning the pond for some crude but deserved attention.
Having been given a record deal and then having had it taken back away from him, Frank Ocean decided to proceed without corporate investment and release "Nostalgia" as a free download. And boy are we lucky he decided not to keep it from us.
"Nostalgia/Ultra" has a fitting name in that it hijacks many melodies and aesthetics from previous generations of music. "American Wedding" shamelessly riffs off of the Eagles' "Hotel California", while the lead single "Novacane" bumps and sparkles in a diabolically 80s-tastic manner as Ocean tells a story of becoming desensitized to the world around him. The first verse laments "I can't feel nothing/Superhuman, even when I'm fucking/ Viagra popping, every single record/ Auto-tuning, zero emotion, muted emotion/Pitch corrected, computed emotion", as he draws attention not only to the numbness he now feels, but also to the dissociative qualities of masculinity and the highly technological music industry.
The irony of this is that his tale of desensitized life is painted vividly. As the catalyst is revealed to be a young amateur porn star and aspiring dentist, the listener is treated to a truly numbing picture of pleasure. Ocean's ultimate implication equating arousal and numbness not only convinces, but more importantly intrigues.
Essential Tracks: Novacane, Swim Good
7. Jay-Z and Kanye West, "Watch the Throne" (Roc-a-fella Records)
Prior to the release of this collaboration, the hip hop world seemed to be in fairly unanimous agreement that it could not live up to its own hype. Both pairs of this duo (self-proclaimed as "The Throne") have reigned as the king of the industry at different points. Combine that raw power with the infamous faux-father/son personalities of the two and you've got a recipe for a completely unattainable goal.
So yes, the duo failed to be hip hop Jesus reincarnate. But that inevitability considered, they did a pretty damn good job of trying. Structurally, the album is an oddity. Its best moments are those that have a vicious momentum, but inevitably this momentum is blue balled by some soft, lackluster efforts. The album opener, "No Church In the Wild", has a mesmerizingly simple beat, and Jay and 'Ye play to this minimalism, foregoing complex rhymes for a more pleasing, laid-back approach. None other than Frank Ocean provides the crooning, auto-tunelicious hook.
However, "No Church" is followed immediately by the worst song on the album, "Liftoff", where Frank Ocean is swapped out for Beyonce, and the kosher hip hop momentum is wasted. It must be awkward being in a marriage with another hip hop artist. I have to assume that The Throne had enough sense to realize that "Liftoff" was some soft shit. Is it too awkward to have a little pillow talk in which he told Beyonce she just couldn't be on the album? Apparently out boy Hov can be pretty whipped.
While pitfalls like this are present throughout the album, it still has a a handful of unforgettable tracks. "Otis" is just plain fun, "HAM" is a rare perfect use of producer Lex Luger (although the track is baffling relegated to an iTunes bonus), and "Niggas in Paris" is undoubtedly the song of the year. I don't care how much rolling in the deep Adele did, she has nothing on the cultural statement that this one song made. It is, quite simply, ridiculous. Ridiculous in the context of hip hop, which thrives on bad puns and the intentional creation of controversy. Referencing his law suit with the NBA ("Ball so hard motherfuckers wanna fine me/First you niggas gotta find me/ What's fifty grand to a motherfucker like me, can you please remind me?"), Jay defines the term 'luxury rap' as the celebration of unstoppable wealth. On their own albums, Kanye and Jay make a point to be introspective, because hey, it's hard to be super famous sometimes, guys. On "Watch the Throne", however, any second thoughts are gone. "Niggas In Paris", and the whole album really, seems to act as an empathetic response to the Occupy Wall Street generation, as these two media goliaths essentially proclaim "We are the 1 percent!".
This isn't a bad thing though, is it? It's how hip hop began, in self celebration. For the rest of us, it's escapism. And no matter what you think of them as people, this album stands as a testament that they deserve to boast.
Essential Tracks: No Church In the Wild, Niggas In Paris, Otis
6. The Weeknd- "House of Balloons" (Self-released)
What happens when you take Frank Ocean's beautiful, panty-dropping voice and apply it to terrifying subject matter? Well, you get the Weeknd, R&B singer Abel Tesfaye.
In early 2011, this mixtape (the first in a trilogy released throughout the year) emerged on the internet and created quite a stir. The mysterious vocalist was talented, no doubt, but his songs seemed to depict truly unsettling scenes. It is very common in the realm of hip hop and R&B for a vocalist to narrate the events of a party. Indeed it's actually quite trite at this point. No one, however, has narrated parties quite like these. In the mixtape's opener, "High For This", Tesfaye persuades a woman into some unnamed, formidable sexual act. His lyrics are endlessly reassuring, to the point where his need to reassure becomes the most terrifying aspect of the story.
In the title track, "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls", the listener is treated to a musical representation of the high and the crash of a hard drug-oriented party. The first half of the song begins "Been on another level since you came", the narrator lost in the bliss of the party and its company. The chorus celebrates "This is a happy house, and we're happy here, in our happy house", a claim reeking of a desperate denial. This is the beginning of the night, when the drugs are in full effect.
Halfway through the inspired track, however, things take a turn for the darker. Tesfaye begins to address his addiction, specifically the need of the partygoers to keep their high going. He brings out glass tables which he bought especially for the occasion, and spirals back into his haze.
All of this is interesting, sure. But daring content doesn't necessarily make for good music, so why is "House of Balloons" enjoying the #6 spot on my list? It's because it represents a perfect union of seductive vocals and boundary-pushing production. On most R&B albums, "Glass Table Girls" wouldn't exist, given R&B's championing of romance. Here, however, Tesfaye addresses the underbelly of the soulful singer. After all, a man so in touch with his emotions must inevitably face his darker qualities.
Essential Tracks: High For This, House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls, The Morning
5. TV on the Radio, "Nine Types of Light" (DGC Records)
First off, let me just say that it has irked me since this album came out that it is called "Nine Types of Light", yet it has ten tracks. So close...
That flaw aside, "Nine" is a terrific album, although it fails to live up to the algorithym set forth by TVotR's first three albums. When TV emerged on the scene at the turn of the millenium, they were an extremely experimental band, more of a Radiohead reinterpretation than anything else, their first collection of samples even humblingly named "OK Calculator".
Their second album, "Return to Cookie Mountain" began to change things up, however. Suddenly there were some overtly catchy tunes, like the sex-crazed "Wolf Like Me", and even the more experimental tracks were underscored by infectious, ominous beats. The entire album dripped with apocalyptic foreboding, proving that the band was capable of larger-arcing motifs than their initial releases had demonstrated.
"Nine", however, feels very much like "Dear Science, Part II", and is the first notable retread in the band's catalogue. It's resemblance to "Science" is not necessarily a detriment, as both albums boast foot-tappingly yet complex smile-inducing choruses crooned by frontman Tunde Adebimpe, for whom the world has always been a sad but romantic place. The real disappointment instead stems from the band's seeming complacency, especially after such a long hiatus over the last three years. Whereas their past albums were conflicted, "Nine" is content to just be a smooth, catchy listen, and more importantly it's meant to be a reassurance that the band is not gone forever.
As such a vehicle it more than serves its purpose, despite lacking the gumption the Brooklyn-based quintet tends to demonstrate. The band certainly embraces this new calm, and as such accomplishes a homogenous, fun tracklist. Having spent their first three albums composing music in what Kyp Malone described as a grey, concrete room, TVotR took to the beaches for this release, and their laid-back mindset is certainly contagious.
On "Second Song" , the album's opener, Adebimpe proclaims "Confidence and ignorance approve me/ Define my day today/ I've tried so hard to shut it down, lock it up/ Gently walk away", and 'proclaims' really is the word for it. He's not talking, he's not singing, he's looking inwards and explaining how he ticks. When the flittery beat eventually drops in, so does the band's saccharine optimism. It's as if the listener has caught Adebimpe in a rare moment of weakness, and now gets to witness him slipping into his soothing, jovial stage presence. By the end of the track the band is in full Dear Science-esque swing, with an almost maximalist use of funky guitar riffs coupled with the band's now signature blaring horn outros. It's by far the best opening track the band has had to date, and a high point of their whole catalogue.
While perhaps not their best release, TV On the Radio still possesses a sound unlike anything in the music industry. With an ensemble so diversely talented (R.I.P. Gerard Smith, the bassist who succumbed to lung cancer a week after the album's release), they still have a bright, bright future ahead of them. We're just happy to have them back, and from the sound of their music, they're pretty stoked as well.
Essential Tracks: Second Song, No Future Shock, Will Do, New Cannonball Blues
An interesting tidbit: The woman in this video is Joy Bryant, a graduate of my and much of our readership's high school.