TV on the Radio Turn Their Gaze Inward


For a brief moment in late 2008, it felt like the clouds were parting after eight dark years, and TV on the Radio's supremely great "Golden Age" might just be heralding the start of something truly amazing. The band went all in, leaving any arty pretension to the music video and earnestly proclaiming that, holy shit, positivity and patience might just pay off.

Well, that certainly didn't last long, did it? Though it might have felt in a tiny way like Blue America's own "Winds of Change," even Kyp Malone himself was dubious. "I just voted for a dude who supports wiretapping," he told Spin in early 2009, "because that was the best option."

Fast forward a couple years, when we're only a few months away from what the Mayans and Roland Emmerich warn us is our civilization's high-concept apocalypse, and a gang of clever L.A. assholes predicts that the future will get odder before it gets better. As for Malone, he's resigned to irony. "Do the 'no future,'" he warbles, as if true believers have any other choice. "Shake it like it's the end of time." He forgot to include the part where we throw up our hands.

Drawing its rhetorical thrust equally from Sun Ra's "Nuclear War" and Jon Stewart's latest shoulder-shrugging Daily Show segment "I Give Up," "Future" is the funky sigh of smart folks comprehending their own helplessness in the face of forces they understand but can't hope to change. It's also the lone political moment on Nine Types of Light, an album on which a band whose every action feels crucial decides to step back and gaze at the apocalypse that its team couldn't help prevent. On the sexiest song here, Malone coos "If the world all falls apart/I'm gonna keep your heart." Sweet and romantic, sure, but also sort of Beyond Thunderdome when you think about it.

Light is also the first TV on the Radio album to be recorded away from the band's comfy boho surroundings in north Brooklyn. And then some: the band decamped to a mall-based studio near Rodeo Drive that, Tunde Adebimpe claims, is three blocks from a plastic surgery clinic. Granted, if your muse is such that you want to sit back and watch the Decline of Western Civilization without trying to intervene, Los Angeles is where you go. And the group still has its eyes open, it's just that the transcontinental relocation means it's taking in different sights. The glassy funk of "Forgotten" is pulled tight like a Botoxed forehead before giving way to a brass fanfare fit for the Four Horsemen. As it builds, Adebimpe sketches a surreal, eerily prescient scene: "Beverly Hills/Nuclear winter/What should we wear/And who's for dinner?"

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