After five albums (six if you include the 2002’s OK Calculator experiment prior to becoming a full band), you’re in a kinda personal relationship with a band. It’s a long term thing - by now you’re either hungry for that thrill of new aspects to their sound, or just happy they’re still around.
This is an album that may not have been made, as it’s their first since the tragic early death loss of bassist, Gerard Smith, at 36. After much soul searching and uncertainty about their own future, TV On The Radio decided to continue as a tribute to their friend, with Jaleel Bunton touchingly swapping his role in the band from drummer to bassist, a strength found from within. The two standalone tracks released last year, “Mercy” and “Million Miles”, showed a band undergoing a period of revitalisation, especially after their 2011 long player, Nine Types of Light, was such a subdued affair.
The gradual shift of TV On The Radio’s music from scuzzy art-rock to sleek pop has coincided with the band’s guitarist Dave Sitek’s ongoing rise as a ‘go to’ producer: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Foals and Cerebral Ballzy have all received the Sitek golden touch, his skill was a perfect accompaniment to this year's lip-smackingly good Food album from Kelis, and he even managed to extract a decent song out of a Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye (albeit just one).
With TVOTR already proven to be a suckers for a love song, Seeds is awash with the stuff. The first words hollered are “How much do I love you/How much do we try/To set into motion /A love divine?” on the opening “Quartz”. It's a vocal yearning from Tunde Adebimpe backed with some of their most lassic sounds: doo-woop vocals, jittery beats, weird clanking sounds, sampled cowbells, kitchen sinks, their usual kind of thing.
“Careful You” and “Could You” are also cut from the same cloth, the former a mid-paced, dirty electronic mood peace (a revisit to their classic “Halfway Home” cut, while the latter has dual vocalist Kyp Malone pleading "Could you love somebody/Could open up your heart?") over gorgeous Rickenbacker guitar chimes reminiscent of The Byrds, concluding with parping horns which scream triumph. This is TVOTR at their cleanest; the grimy synths that made tracks like “Wolf Like Me” or “Young Liars” so essential are a million miles from the approach here, but still, these tunes could never be mistaken as ones from a different band.
The nearest thing to their sound of old appears on “Love Stained”, which also happens to be the absolute peak of the album. Musically sullen with skeletal post-punk guitar lines, washes of synth and monotone organ notes, it’s lyrical uplift proving to be an entrancing juxtaposition with a gorgeous impassioned croon from Malone, declaring “In the middle of the light, just wanna be your darlin’/Runnin’ by your side, let me play along”. It's epic and ever so slightly emotional.
There is, of course, space for dumb punk tracks too; “Winter” is prowling and minimal with crunching guitars backed with that “We Will Rock You” boom-boom-tish drum pattern, whilst “Lazerray” rocks harder than they ever have done. TVOTR remain enemies of genre boundaries, it’s all here, electronica, rock, pop, indie, dubstep, R’N’B, Hip Hop, shattered and pieced back together with eyes tightly shut.
This collection of tracks is pretty much a continuation of Nine Types of Light, and their 2008 breakthrough, Dear Science - tracks on all three albums are pretty interchangeable. This could be dismissed as a band who longer seek new sonic ventures, and true, there are no moments of ‘what the hell was that?’‘ which made 2004’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes and 2006’s Return To Cookie Mountain such refreshing new slants on rock music, no more My Bloody Valentine mixed by The Bomb Squad sounds, no Prince fronting Sonic Youth (con)fusion. But Seeds is a very strong album, even if it may alienate fans of their older synth-led doom-gaze sound. Their loss - this is a triumph that has risen from tragedy, a glittering testament to a fallen band mate who has been done proud.