For the first time since 2011, TV on the Radio are back with a new album Seeds, albeit under vastly different circumstances. The three year timespan has brought numerous changes to the band: the unfortunate passing of bassist Gerard Smith, the parting of ways with longtime label Interscope, and the members’ geographic relocation from Brooklyn to more permanent residencies in Los Angeles. Things are not quite the same as they were on the last go round. Musically, though, the band continues its dive into the gentler, kinder, more forgiving sound that populated the tracks on that last album, Nine Types of Light.
Listeners looking for that propulsive, almost primal, urgency that raged against the light on past hits like “Wolf Like Me”, “Dirtywhirl”, or “Red Dress”, will instead find a more muted sound, one that’s groovier, funkier, and a little less harsh, but no less exciting or invigorating. Producer and member Dave Sitek is a whiz at manipulating sounds and mashing together whirling collages of unique noise-check the opening scramble of “Quartz” and the “click-click” club groove of “Right Now” as solid evidence. He’s also great at just letting the band loose and rocking out as illuminated on lead single “Happy Idiot”, the call-and-response catchiness of “Could You” and the punkish fever of “Lazerray”.
However, the lightening of the musical palette doesn’t correlate to a softening of the subject matter. It may be the band’s poppiest sounding album, but it is no sunnier in disposition than some of their prior work. As usual, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone are grappling with dread and invoking past missteps in the hopes of understanding them and moving forward. Seeds’ dozen tracks generally attempt to make sense of it all, although no clear answers are provided. Whereas before, the band strived to make political statements or engaged in social commentary, here, like on Light the focus is more personal with love and all of its’ messy associations a main point of contemplation. The catch though, is that the lyrics still leave room for interpretation and association: “Oh, here comes trouble/Put your helmet on, we’ll be heading for a fall”-goes the gently serene penultimate track, “Trouble”. Whether this is strictly addressing a romantic endeavor or speaking to a broader worldly concern is the mystery and one that TV on the Radio continue to mine well after a decade-plus of being in the business.
Its November release date should prevent Seeds from making many year-end best-of lists. However, look for it to resurface on next year’s compilations as the album’s staying power should resonate through 2015 and beyond.