By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
TV ON THE RADIO
Brooklynites TV on the Radio came to prominence because of their ties to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They produced the YYY’s new album and helped make the video for their song “Pin.” Currently they’re signed to the YYY’s old label, Touch and Go.
Despite this connection to 2003’s great white hype, if you ask your hipster friends to describe TV on the Radio, they’ll inevitably describe how s-o-u-l-f-u-l they are, how “different.” They’ll speak admiringly of the barbershop-quartet cover of the Pixies’ “Mr. Grieves” from this past summer’s Young Liars EP. What they’ll studiously avoid saying is that the band are a near-freakish presence in American indie-rock, due to the presence of not one but two actual African-Americans, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. They front the band alongside in-house producer and multi-instrumentalist David Andrew Sitek. Well, I’m sorry to report that Adebimpe’s voice — often massed with Malone’s and Sitek’s — resembles no one else’s more than that of former Genesis front man Peter Gabriel.
TV on the Radio have just released Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, and as the dual lineage promises, they represent art rock (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and prog rock (Peter Gabriel) far more than soul. Adebimpe approaches every note with the fervor of a gospel singer, but finally it’s affection, not lung capacity, that carries him along. You can hear him straining for the notes. What does stick out is the imaginative production. A notably egalitarian mix gives each instrument equal prominence, and the record practically vibrates with odd melodies, as if egos were submerged and the songs popped up from a magnetic field of buzzing guitars, crisp drums and fuzzy voices. The best songs, “Staring at the Sun” and “The Wrong Way,” push this groupthink concept further with a host of guest stars (the YYY’s guitarist Nick Zinner, flautist/saxophonist Martin Perna), who add to the cacophony.
More hungrily anticipated than all these records combined is the Walkmen’s Bows and Arrows. Three-fifths of this proudly Manhattanite group were living the life of garage-rock revivalists well before the Strokes or White Stripes played a note. Three members played in the much-hyped DreamWorks signing Jonathan FireEater, who were thought to be a next big thing until their major-label debut turned into the bargain-bin disaster of 1997.
With the addition of singer Hamilton Leithauser and bassist Peter Bauer, the group reconvened as a wispier beast. Their 2002 debut, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, rejected tightly structured compositions in favor of eerie, barely-there songs that sounded like a band jamming on ideas in a room, letting tones pile up in the air, then lazily capturing them to analog tape. Guitarist Paul Maroon and organist Walter Martin’s fog of noise was U2 by way of Erik Satie. It’s as if they set out to play anthems but settled on something more vague.
Including the Walkmen in a prog-rock roundup is a deliberately provocative choice. Most pundits think of the group as the forward guard of the new rock revival — the thinking man’s answer to the Strokes et al. — but I hear something else, something . . . more progressive. They aren’t that intent on proving their chops, or extending the definition of a rock song, but they certainly stretch those definitions to the breaking point within the framework of four-minute songs and a standard guitar/ bass/drums/keys lineup. Where the Walkmen’s first album dissolved completely on close inspection, Bows and Arrows captures the chaotic drive of the live band. Drummer Matt Barrick doesn’t add to the field of sound, he propels it. The album’s more vaporous numbers — “No Christmas While I’m Talking,” “138th Street,” “Hang on Siobhan” — no longer sound like songs recorded halfway to completion, but a group playing chicken with silence.
The only bad news is that the album loses something when held up next to the formidable presence of the record’s first single, “The Rat,” a four-and-a-half-minute roller coaster of rising guitars, drums that titter and slam, and cathartic vocal bravado. Leithauser defines his front-man persona here as his mood vacillates between come-on and contempt, and his lyrics portray an aging hipster, tired of the nightlife, yet unwilling to give it up. He seethes:
When I used to go out
I would know everyone that I saw
Now I go out alone
If I go out at all
It’s a brave — and progressive — pose, but it crumbles in the next verse, as he reveals his desperation:
Can’t you see me
I’m pounding on your door
Can’t you hear me
Calling out your name?
Anthemic, highly coherent, and summing up what’s happening N-O-W, it’s the kind of song that has the breakout potential of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and in a kinder world that might still happen.