TV on the Radio isn't just any indie rock act. Instead, it's a band that defies expectations and classifications. Although the band is signed to a major label (Interscope), it still functions like an independent band, focusing on sources like NPR (National Public Radio) as much as mainstream outlets for press and media coverage.
Even the band's sound defies expectations. Although it has been widely embraced by indie and college rock fans, the band incorporates elements of funk, electronic, soul, hip-hop and orchestral pop into its eclectic sonic mix.
When Return to Cookie Mountain was released in 2006, its fresh and vibrant sound caused an immediate stir, not only winning over fans, but also the media, with Rolling Stone claiming "it might be one of the most oddly beautiful, psychedelic and ambitious albums of the year" and the New York Times proclaiming it "Simply one of this year's best albums."
Even so, the band continued to build its fan base gradually, focusing on constant touring and connecting with the fans on a personal and more intimate level. When the follow up, Dear Science, was released in 2008, it immediately won critical acclaim and was named album of the year by Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly and MTV. Even so, the band remained more of a phenomenon of the East and West coast, with the much of the Midwest missing out on the phenomenon.
So great was the buzz following the band, however, that it was on the DFest wish list for three years. Unfortunately, touring schedules did not coincide and we never saw the band arrive in Tulsa. Even an extensive tour behind Dear Science saw the band make a stop in Oklahoma City, but Tulsa has never appeared on the band's itinerary.
Following an extensive two year tour behind Dear Science, the band took a hiatus, with the members each working on outside projects before reconvening to create what would become this year's anxiously awaited Nine Types of Light.
Even from the outset, it was clear that TV on the Radio would be the band you could not escape in 2011. The band came out of the gates in "full court press" mode at SXSW in March of this year, playing five shows in four days and becoming the act that was seemingly ever present, yet near impossible to see, with many of it shows at capacity with more fans waiting outside for a chance to catch a glimpse of the band and a preview of its latest CD.
Fortunately, I was able to catch at least one show and see what all the fuss was about. Live, the band feeds off of a chemistry that can only come from the decade the band has spent together. The interplay between band members made the transition between moody pop, angular art-rock, funk and soul not only work, but make sense -- all while gradually pulling the audience into the experience as the performance continued.
The band's ever-presence and engaging new material led me to predict that Nine Types of Light would (or at least should) be one of the biggest rock albums of the year. Once the record came out in April, however, follow up from the label seemed non-existent and the album came out to the acclaim of fans, but didn't explode on the scene as expected for new listeners.
Nevertheless, Nine Types of Light is possibly the band's most accessible album to date. Even more lush and layered than previous discs, the album also revolves around the themes of love and longing. As singer Kyp Malone explained of the current disc, "I like love songs. There's nothing particularly interesting going on with me in my life to bear this work. I like the forms of love songs, the poetry."
He also added that, in contrast to the band's previous work, "We've attempted to work on themes before but they fall apart very quickly. More organic versions arise because we're sharing time or space or communication."
Although the album may seem like an album of love songs, however, as is often the case with TV on the Radio, true meaning behind the songs often lies deeper. On "You" Tunde Adebimpe sings "You're the only one I've ever loved" with a sincerity that says he's true in his intentions. As Adebimpe explains, however, "It's a song about the feeling you get sometimes when you're expressing how much you care about someone but resorting to these beautiful sounding lies. You're the only one I ever loved? It's a terrible thing to say to someone because it's most likely not true."
Such is nearly often the case with TV on the Radio: there's always more than meets the eye (or ear). Even in the midst of what should be a victory lap of sorts with the current album, the band is working through a major loss.
Back in March, the band announced that bassist Gerard Smith had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was undergoing treatment. With his blessing, the band carried on with an extensive promotional tour that included the week's residency at SXSW. On April 10, Smith succumbed to cancer and although the group has not dwelled on it in the press, it has undoubtedly added a weight to the band moving forward.
Although it may have slowed the band a bit, the group has soldiered on and gone back on the road where it thrives the most. An extensive tour included a stop at NPR's World Café, which also spawned an EP release, World Café Live, via iTunes and other electronic retailers on Sept. 6. The tour continues to take the band to new markets to win over new fans with a sound that defies categorization and expectations.
The tour finally brings TV on the Radio to Tulsa for the first time for a stop at Cain's Ballroom this Sunday night, Sept. 18. Austin based band Sorne opens the show as the two return from appearing at the Austin city Limits Festival on Saturday night. It's a show that Tulsa has been waiting patiently for and will only exceed expectations. Even if you aren't familiar with the band, this is a show that shouldn't be missed.
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