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To say the early portion of 2011 was an unkind time for Brooklyn's TV on the Radio would be a grave understatement. The post-millennial art-rock pioneers' divisive fourth album, Nine Types of Light, was released to reasonable fanfare, but it was a far cry from the landmark trio of consistently progressive LPs that preceded it: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (2004), Return to Cookie Mountain (2006) and Dear Science (2008). A well-rounded suite taken in retrospect, it was largely mired by a troubled gestation that impacted upon the group's brimming imaginations. Relocating from their NYC birthing ground to a studio based in founding member - and super-producer - Dave Sitek's Californian home, they found themselves facing a daily routine that served to stifle the abundant creativity that's become a hallmark of their output to date.
"We weren't even in LA, we were in Beverly Hills," longstanding backing vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kyp Malone recalled in a recent interview with The Line of Best Fit. "I just don't think it was a good mesh for our personalities. We were recording at Dave's house, but we'd eat and sleep in Beverly Hills and commute up to Dave's place. It was a weird way to start your day, waking up to that sort of psychic battlefield."
Just nine days after it saw release on their then label Interscope, tragedy would strike the band. Bassist Gerard Smith, a pivotal member of the band since he joined in 2005, passed away following an ongoing, courageous fight with lung cancer. At the time, it was hard to imagine just how the group might continue without Smith: an often quiet figure who nonetheless felt like a vital part of the band's social and musical DNA; a trusted friend and collaborator firmly at the core of everything they did.
Flash forward to 2013 and off the back of curating the now defunct All Tomorrow's Parties festival in its second stint at Camber Sands, a duo of new tracks - 'Mercy' and 'Million Miles' - appeared online, struck through with a vigour and vitality that suggested not only did they still have plenty to say but they were better equipped to express it than ever.
It's into this hopeful new beginning that the group's fifth full-length, Seeds, enters the fray. Curiously once again recorded in LA - though as noted by Malone in "more mellow and harmonious" climes, where songs were given room to breathe across long jamming weekends marked by the consumption of Blue Jane, a popular strain of marijuana in Northern California - it's a wondrous, wide-eyed amalgamation of everything the four-piece have done to date.
From the off, it's both comfortingly nostalgic and enticingly progressive. Opener 'Quartz' meshes the sort of group harmonies and warming, mechanical hum that were hallmarks of 2003's debut EP Young Liars, particularly early breakout single 'Staring at the Sun'. Lead vocalist Tunde Adebimpe offering some of the most pristine lyrical couplets he's ever turned out: "Take me high, take me low, take me nowhere my poor heart can't follow. Reckless hearts soon collide, break through a lifetime of stress and evil." The beatific goodness of 'Careful You' meanwhile - which could have easily figured on the widely lauded Dear Science - sees a glistening chorus, bursting with ideas, trace the back-and-forth conjecture as futile attempts are made to save a troubled relationship: "Don't know how I feel. What's the deal? Is it real? When's it gonna go down? Can we talk? Can we not? Well I'm here. Won't you tell me right now? And I'll care for you. Oh, careful you." Half-a-dozen questions bounding around a head that's longing for one answer.
Then there's 'Lazerray': the first song penned specifically for Seeds and a return to the lofty tumult of Return to Cookie Mountain highpoint 'Wolf Like Me'. Ruled by boisterously struck floor toms, sprightly synths and goliath guitar chugs, it's a playground for Adebimpe's largely nonsensical stream of conscience lyrics: "Four thousand years ago, I came back to my senses. Swallowed a laser ray that blew my mind in all directions."
Nestled among an eclectic set that draws upon all corners of the TV on the Radio lexicon are two tracks in particular that stand among the best they've ever laid to - warped - tape. The first, 'Ride', builds from a celestial intro of melancholic piano chords and sweeping strings into a panoramic gospel-rocker that burns ever onwards, along a sunset strip into eternity: "Fathers, sisters, brothers, others born of mothers, every friend and lover: now is the time, get on the ride."
The other, 'Test Pilot', serves as a masterclass of texture and harmony. Guitar chords crash like shards of glass breaking on impact while Adebimpe's soft, plaintive vocals appropriately albatross atop: "We are high, and we are fine. We are going to need the strength it takes to pave the way, the first test pilot." Charting another unstable romance, his dexterity and flow is given centre-stage. "Stumbling through the motions, criminal and careless. Thought you were my best friend, now I couldn't care less...You're playing my emotions, way out of proportion, damage and distortion blasting through your fantasy."
Through it all, there's a joy and enthusiasm just to be documenting these passing emotional states; chiselling life out of sonic clay. As Adebimpe put it recently to Hi Wallflower: "Even if you're writing sad songs, the act of music making - or creating any anything - should be at least subliminally joyous."
It's a philosophy that permeates every acre of Seeds, soaked between every grain of soil: a record rich in fruits to reap, the result of unbridled enthusiasm, masterful craft and, yes, a long gaze sunwards.
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