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TV On The Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain Review

by Patrick Muldowney

All hail TV On The Radio! In a year thus far governed mediocrity, Return to Cookie Mountain makes a play for a "Best Album" banner that may transcend the independent/college alternative status quo. As great as Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes was two years ago, it suffered from bipolar disorder (weak points radically countered by "wow" songs). Return to Cookie Mountain is an entire album; constantly drawing the listener into its unique world.

The sound TV On The Radio creates is admittedly mind-boggling. Often so-called new music is really veiled revivals of old music, yet TVOTR can't even allow me some alternate studio world combination that makes any sense. (I was kicking around the stupidest surreal image of Marvin Gaye entering a studio, and having Bowie create some melodies and backing vocals, while Lou Reed assists with lyrics, and Thurston Moore plays guitar, before quitting because it made no sense.) There is a harmony of diverse influences in TVOTR that has not existed musically, and this is what makes enjoyment easy and discussion difficult. There is some presence of Experimental, Electronic, Hip Hop, Motown-styled R&B, Jazz, Psychedelic, and Folk (that's probably not all), but the ingredients are so abundant that though you'll recognize some tastes, the overall dish has a distinctly different flavor. So many bands represent varying influences, but there is seldom respect for each one, and this results in tension, restraint, and mediocrity. The equation for TV On The Radio and Return to Cookie Mountain is inverted.

On Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, the outstanding songs ("Ambulance", "Poppy", "Staring at the Sun", "Dreams") stood out like beacons against inferior songs. Therefore, the only difficulty in deciphering Return to Cookie Mountain revolves around the existence of standout songs. Are there many good songs without the existence of standouts, or do the standouts simply standout less because they are buffered by much better songs this time around? One listen beyond the initial spin proves the latter to be the case. "I Was a Lover" is a sampling masterpiece of hip hop beats, horns, distortion, and nearly buried soul. David Bowie's accompaniment of Tunde Adebempe on vocals during "Province" creates a harrowing tandem last matched when Bowie backed himself on "Ashes to Ashes". "Wolf Like Me" is the single, which makes sense because it has an appeal similar to "Staring at the Sun", but a more distinctive groove. Not sure if those are actual wind chimes during the bridge, but they are a nice accent that prove how detailed each minute sound is on the disc. Even songs that sound stripped down on Return to Cookie Mountain, like "A Method", contain numerous percussion and vocal tracks, although the clarity of claps and whistles create an illusion of simplicity. Finally, "Dirty Whirl" is the closest to consistently resembling anything other than original TVOTR. Musically and melodically evoking vintage 50s music, even the romantic image of the "dirty little whirlwind" fits the "Runaround Sue". Nevertheless, lyrically "Dirty Whirl" is more complex, and this is one of the more memorable songs.

To end, I'll provide you with what this review would have looked like if my intellectual ego would have stepped aside:

If you want to get a great album, get Return to Cookie Mountain. Maybe the best album this year. No, it's not a "Sesame Street" album. Yes, it does sound like a Cookie Monster title. I did see Return to Witch Mountain. A few Thanksgivings ago at my in-laws. What an awful movie. It's from TV On The Radio. No, I didn't say I was listening to the radio. TV On The Radio, that's the name of the band. I'm not sure what it means. Wasn't TV On The Radio at some point? What's it sound like? It sounds like…good. By the time I listed all the things they sound like, but don't really sound like, you wouldn't know what they sounded like anyway, so just trust me on this one. Wouldn't it be nice to get something unfamiliar? Do you only want to meet people just like someone you already know? Do you only want to watch movies just like you've seen? Exactly, why should music be any different?

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