Harvest Records has a long and impressive history of releasing progressive music; they released the most notable Pink Floyd records, were home to heavy rock icons Deep Purple and Iron Maiden early in their careers, and by 1977 they were putting out records by Can and Wire. That all stopped in the 80s, when between 1983 and 2008 they put out as many albums as they did in 1971 alone. After this lull of noteworthy albums that lasted thirty years, they started putting out music again in 2013, releasing albums by Death Grips and Morrissey (two unstable, but brilliant, sources at best), but also picked up TV on the Radio’s newest release. The humor is surely not lost on anyone that the first record TV on the Radio released on Harvest Records is called Seeds.

TV on the Radio is probably going to go down as one of the best bands of the early 21st century. Known for their complex creations, they broke out into the mainstream with 2006s Return to Cookie Mountain and topped many of the year-end best lists with 2008s Dear Science, and continued with 2011s more-than-competent Nine Types of Light. They are known for tightly produced and rhythmic rock and roll with a hint of funk and permeating the surface.

With Seeds, they’ve boiled down their formula and toned down their pulse; in doing so they’ve created their most restrained album to date. On certain songs this works well, and of course it does, because this is TV on the Radio, but on other songs you’re left with the monotone taste of unseasoned Tofu. After spinning the record a couple of times I wrote of mid-album track “Test Pilot,” “Lisa Loeb?” I must have kept tuning out “Right Now,” as of the third listen I didn’t have a single thing to say about it. These two tracks, put kindly, might be described as filler.

Thankfully, most of the tracks could not be described in this way. “Could You,” which I swear is the combination Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright) and Green Day’s “Uptight,” is a really great song. “Lazerray” is reminiscent of “Gates of Steel” by DEVO, and may be the least TVotR song on the album, but also may be my favorite song on the album. “Happy Idiot” follows in that Post-Punk mold, and “Winter,” a song that could be easily described as their follow-up to “Wolf Like Me,” has the feel of a Ramones track undercut with the pulsating of an 808 instead of a backbeat.

Yet, missing are those great drum tracks like those found on “A Method” and “Halfway Home” from previous albums. This lends to the subdued effect they seem to be going for. Handclaps, a dinging bell, and bass, are the main source of rhythm at the beginning of “Quartz.” (As a sidenote, quartz crystal is used in some watches, and is literally the part that keeps time, and as we all know Bells mark time in town squares everywhere). “Careful You” sounds heavy at first, but loses that feel upon the first few lyrics, which are in French. The end product is the intersection between an 80s New Wave, Nine Inch Nails, and Edith Piaf, a combination I didn’t think could exist.

Balladry isn’t something that TVotR have necessarily shied away from, but Seeds really played up the form in a way that they haven’t before. If you include “Careful You,” the number of slow songs versus fast is split fifty-fifty. “Love Stained,” “Trouble,” and the title track “Seeds” all fight with notion of unsuccessful love and the willingness to work through that as evidenced by the following lyrics: “Everything’s going to be Ok,” “Rain comes down like it always does/this time I’ve got seeds on ground,” “Everything’s alright, just let me be your darling.” Part of me tried to read too much into these lyrics, as it was the first album after the death of bassist Gerard Smith, but I would be overreaching despite the one line from “Lazerray”: “I hope you understand nothing living lasts forever.”

The focal point of the album is “Ride.” It starts with a gorgeous minimalist piano piece that reminds me of Wilco’s “Less Than You Think” that builds into this triumphal, heartfelt track of human reflection. “This is the ride of your life/and it goes all day, all night,” is Sisyphean if I’ve ever heard it, but “we are more than only human” is positivism that Sisyphus could never muster. And I believe part of the reason that I was continually mentally tuned out of “Right Now,” is because it has the unfortunate responsibility of following “Ride.” And “Ride” makes me feel good in a good way.

I’ve had to fight the legacy of TV on the Radio, and my own personal history as a fan to come to the conclusion that this album is no “Return to Cookie Mountain.” It is good enough not to write off as a faux-pas in an otherwise flawless career. The best way I can put how I feel is that if I were trying to get a friend into this band, I would not reach for this album first, but if they ended liking them (and in the case of this theoretical friend, they’d better), I wouldn’t steer them away from it either.

Article by: Christopher Gilson

Be first to comment