The past three years have been tough for New York art-rock experimentalists TV On The Radio. In 2011, they lost their bassist Gerard Smith to lung cancer nine days after the release of their fourth album ‘Nine Types Of Light’, a record whose futuristic sheen and hour-long accompanying film saw them reshape guitar-pop’s boundaries as they did with 2006’s David Bowie-featuring album ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’. Since then, the band have parted acrimoniously with their old label Interscope (“They did what they did. That’s as diplomatic as I can put that” singer Tunde Adebimpe said last year) moving to Harvest.
But ‘Seeds’ is no mournful elegy. Adebimpe only acknowledges his band’s turbulent recent past towards the end, on found-sound collage ballad ‘Trouble’. Amid bells, glitch and industrial hiss he strains to find a bright side: “’Everything’s going to be OK,’ I keep telling myself/ ‘Don’t worry, be happy’”. This brave face infuses ‘Seeds’; grief and anger are channelled into a propulsive energy, driving the quartet’s synthetic pop explorations with added garage-rock urgency. So after an opening brace of synth-led wonders – the sizzling Kraftwerk thrum of ‘Careful You’ and the tribal ‘Quartz’ – they hammer on the gas. ‘Could You’ sounds like the Friends theme might if Spiritualized blasted it full of brass fanfare, while ‘Ride’ injects piano-led pop with such intensity that it sounds like The Temper Trap tying themselves to a grand piano and pushing it out of a jumbo jet at 34,000 feet. Lead single ‘Happy Idiot’ – a treatise on how, romantically, ignorance is definitely bliss – finds Adebimpe declaring “I’m gonna bang my head on the wall ‘til I feel like nothing at all”.
TVOTR aren’t averse to the odd swipe at the mainstream, though. Close your eyes during the slick choruses on ‘Love Stained’ and ‘Test Pilot’ and you might just mistake them for guitar-toting chart boyband The Script. Mercifully, they’re balanced with ‘Winter’ and ‘Lazerray’, two inventive, fuzzed-up frenzies that show the raucous influence of The Stooges and Sonic Youth. These songs conjure the same excitement as the seditious ‘Wolf Like Me’ did in 2006. TV On The Radio have returned from an uncertain period sounding remarkably fresh.