TV ON THE RADIO Big Things Grow


TV On The Radio have just released their new album, Seeds. AUGUSTUS WELBY reports.

Seeds, the newly released fifth album from TV On The Radio, comes three-and-a-half years after the band’s last effort, Nine Types Of Light. Close followers of the Brooklyn group will most likely be aware that bass player, Gerard Smith, succumbed to lung cancer just days after that album’s release.

Smith’s death didn’t nullify the band’s immediate live commitments, but after the remaining four members wrapped up the Nine Types Of Light touring campaign, the likelihood of another TV On The Radio record was in doubt.

A promising development came in mid-2013, with the release of back-to-back singles, Mercy, and Million Miles. But hopes were quietened somewhat by an accompanying announcement, which explained these tracks weren’t attached to an LP. However, regrouping without having to face the imposing task of making a whole record was effective in reviving the band’s collaborative zeal. Hence, Seeds proceeded to develop almost immediately.

The album has been in the hands of TV On The Radio’s many hungry adherents for a couple of weeks now, and frontman, Tunde Adebimpe, isn’t afraid to voice his excitement. “When we were making it and when it was finished, we knew that it impressed us,” he says. “It’s a nice thing to listen to a record and almost feel like you didn’t make it because you like listening to it so much.”

TV On The Radio began as a project for Adebimpe and guitarist/producer Dave Sitek back in 2002. The band’s major breakthrough – creatively, critically and commercially – was its second LP, 2006’s Return To Cookie Mountain, which was also the first recording to feature the complete five-piece line-up.

Since that time, there’s been no decided bandleader; multiple members receive songwriting credits on each album and the exact role of the separate individuals isn’t easily defined (for instance, drummer Jaleel Bunton is just as likely to contribute guitar to recordings as guitarists Sitek and Kyp Malone).

“That wouldn’t work, I don’t think,” Adebimpe explains. “I feel like whoever tries to be the leader of the band would find themselves alone very, very quickly. During the recording and writing process, everybody throws in what they can. Whatever sticks makes it in and whatever everyone decides, ‘That’s just not really working’, gets tossed away.”

Stepping forward without one-fifth of their established personnel could’ve potentially upset TV On The Radio’s fruitful dynamic. But during the development of Seeds, the process of mutual contribution prevailed.

“When you’re doing something for so long, you recognise dynamics within the band,” Adebimpe says. “Whenever I’m writing a demo, very rarely will I write a song that’s completely fleshed out and just say, ‘okay, you play this, you play that’. That’s not utilising our connection between each other. I’ll leave spaces that I know that Kyp’s going to put something there. I don’t know exactly what he’s going to put there, but that’s his zone and he’ll round that out. And Jaleel will do this and Dave will do that and everyone kind of knows that without me saying anything.

“Collaborating with anybody on anything is going to have its moments,” he adds. “You’re not the same person. That’s the thing that makes it so great – you can bounce things off of each other and it ends up being this thing that’s representative of all of you, hopefully.”

Looking through TV On The Radio’s back catalogue, on each record they’ve generated an unmistakable sonic presence, while continuing to uncover compositional variations. Something that’s been conducive to this achievement is the band members’ commitment to spurring each other on.

“We always call each other out for not pushing stuff far enough,” Adebimpe says. “If somebody makes something and you know it can be better and they want to leave it the way it is, that’s when it gets a little like, ‘What are you doing?’ That’s when it gets a little big brother and little brother-ish, where you try to bully someone into being better than they’re letting themselves be.”

When trying to simplify what distinguishes Seeds from its predecessors, descriptors such as ‘immediate’, ‘streamlined’ and ‘aerated’ jump out. To be more specific, the record comprises tracks such as Could You, which features a jangly, Eastern-inflected guitar line and a positively infectious power-pop chorus.

Speaking during a pre-release US tour, Adebimpe reported that the new songs were “going over really well” live, causing audience members to “sing along to something they’d never heard before, which was an awesome feeling.” This immediate embrace is an indication of the melodically incisive character of several of the album’s tracks. As for whether the band felt nervous about satisfying external expectations with Seeds, that’s never a pressing concern.

“It’s not that we don’t care what anyone else thinks,” Adebimpe says, “but it doesn’t really have a bearing on what we think about what we’ve done. Just the fact that we can still do it and want to do it, we’re already miles ahead of any sort of expectations that might come from the outside.

“That’s not to say I hope people don’t like it. I’m really excited to share this record and to play it live. I’m really excited for people to hear the whole record – we just like the entire thing.”