TV on the Radio already had a singer before Kyp Malone joined the band.
Tunde Adebimpe’s soulful, oscillating croon was considered by many one of the strongest voices in rock music, thanks partially to his ability to individually render each of the syllables in a few words like “storefront cemetery.”
The band has been a fixture of the vibrant musical scene in the hip Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, which has also included the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars. TV on the Radio, with Adebimpe’s urgent vocals and David Sitek’s layers of guitar and electronic fuzz, first showed its potential on the 2003 EP “Young Liars.”
Soon after hearing it, Malone — already a friend — joined the band, bringing an exceptionally high-pitched voice and another songwriting perspective, adding to an already talented lineup, rounded out by bassist Gerard Smith and drummer Jaleel Bunton.
“It’s been my dream for a long time ... to marry early ’90s noise with Usher,” says the bearded, soft-spoken Malone. “And then when I met [those] guys, it was like that can actually happen.”
“I see a space for me,” jokes Adebimpe, finishing Malone’s sentiment.
What specifically constitutes the space of TV on the Radio has led to some head-scratching metaphors and desperate grasps for language. Sitek, also the band’s producer, would prefer not to label it any more specifically than “rock.”
“I personally am trying to be like Earth, Wind and Fire and Wu-Tang,” says Adebimpe, who spent much of his childhood in Nigeria, moving to New York about 14 years ago. He remains the group’s primary vocalist.
‘Simply one of this year’s best albums’Whatever the concoction, TV on the Radio finally sound fully formed on their new album, “Return to Cookie Mountain,” released last week on Interscope Records. Though the band’s 2004 disc, “Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes,” was reviewed well and won honors like the Shortlist Music Prize, critics say “Cookie Mountain” is their greatest achievement.
The New York Times called it “simply one of this year’s best albums”; Vanity Fair described it as “beautiful, inspired noise”; and Pitchforkmedia.com wrote that TV on the Radio “fulfill the enormous potential hinted at on its first three records.”
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They also have at least one rock legend in their corner: David Bowie, who first heard the band several years ago when his doorman passed a CD along. He’s since guided them with advice and puts in a guest appearance on the song “Providence.”
“They have a strong link with the great body of American poetry, especially Beat poetry,” Bowie has said. “The sampling, multi-tracking and mashing identifies them as the spawn of a techno-industrial society.”
At a recent interview in Williamsburg, Adebimpe, Sitek and Malone lamented the transition of their neighborhood from grungy and unified to increasingly chic and socially dispersed.
Befitting their hipster roots, the three can express disdain for less progressive ways of life. They speak of “some rich person” or “accountants” like enemies, and refer to their own work as “art.” (Sitek, Malone, Adebimpe and Bunton have also individually been involved variously with painting, photography, animation and filmmaking.)
But the band spends as much time laughing as they do fretting over politics, and the overarching impression TV on the Radio gives is that they are aggressively conscious — both of themselves and their times.
“We wanted [‘Cookie Mountain’] to be the most accurate representation historically of us and our relationship with each other and the world — and that just isn’t easy,” says Sitek. “Hopefully, we’re giving a voice to our time that addresses a bunch of stuff that isn’t the most common subject matter for popular music.”
Not afraid to attack BushMuch of the album is imbued with thoughts on the current state of the world. On the disc’s opener, “I Was a Lover,” Adebimpe and Malone sing in unison: “We’re sleepwalking through this trial/ And it’s really a crime, it’s really a crime, it’s really a crime.”
Last year after Hurricane Katrina, TV on the Radio released the song “Dry Drunk Emperor” free on their Web site. Both vicious and beautiful, it attacked President Bush, urging people to “shut down this hypocrisy.”
On Sept. 14, TV on the Radio kicked off their current tour in New Orleans, an intentionally symbolic opener for the band. Sitek, who grew up in Baltimore, sees government’s failure of cities elsewhere, though: “Everywhere is New Orleans,” he says.
“It feels criminal to me to know what’s going on in our name around this world and to just keep turning up the cognitive dissonance,” says Malone. “And everyone’s doin’ it. I’m not saying we start a militia — I don’t know, cause I don’t really know what to do.”
Shortly after saying this, TV on the Radio will head to Manhattan to perform on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” where they’ll play their blistering new single, “Wolf Like Me.”
Though Adebimpe stops short of raising an army, he spews a fury of passion through his microphone and out through television sets — his eyes closed, his head flayed backward, and his left arm waving spastically.
He sings over and over: “We’re howling forever and ever, oh oh.”