Last Exit From Brooklyn

TV on the Radio watch from their bedrooms as Williamsburg dissolves around them

In New York, the boom-catalyzed "Williamsburg scene" is old enough news that, just to change things up a bit, trend-spotters are eagerly reporting a recession-fueled artist return to Manhattan. Time has certainly confessed that the shimmering bare-shouldered glam of "electroclash" wasn't quite, uh, real. And as for the neighborhood's dripping-pipe industrial appeal, even garage-revival doyenne Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has unapologetically decamped to bucolic Jersey. So there's some honey-roasted schadenfreude in the air for those who've curdled at the curatorial hipsters willfully photoshopping themselves into 1977, at the dotcom dandies and Lucky-mag lunchers cramming the Bedford Avenue L train.

But whether or not you count yourself among that fill-in-the-blank generation or ever had the soles for Luxx, there's something about the soulful experimentation of Williamsburg band TV on the Radio that transcends subcultural poses. Their omnivorously bizarre EP Young Liars (Touch and Go) sounds different than the Vice-city careerism surrounding them. It's the sound of friends in quest of some primordial churn beneath the rock and rhythm so tidily configured in adjoining warehouses. And their offbeat anachronistic roots-twist--pulling more from Pere Ubu industrial field-holler and Peter Gabriel miasma than New Wave burp and Stooge blare--seems to bookmark our historical page for a minute and flip back to pre-Urban-Outfitted Williamsburg's starving-arts poetic.

Actually, if you've heard the Young Liars tracks played frequently on Radio K, you know that despite its dark veneer, its analog loopiness is actually kinda reminiscent of the collective joy-burst emanating from bedrooms and basements in mid-'90s Minneapolis. Ambitiously lush lo-fi dispatches by Brian Wilson-worshipping fan boys and girls spurred on by collectives like Elephant 6. Knob-twiddlers entering into fantasy competition with other maestro cells, engaging in a sexy extended 4-track chat, trying to hear who is on a Nazz jag or a jazz nag, guided by multitracked voices from cellar to cellar, if never to many buyers.

The entire band was shocked and delighted to find that the magic suitcase doubled as a urinal, but only one member was brave enough to test it out: TV on the Radio
Courtesy of Touch and Go
The entire band was shocked and delighted to find that the magic suitcase doubled as a urinal, but only one member was brave enough to test it out: TV on the Radio

The first band ever signed to Touch and Go based purely on the sound of their demo, TV on the Radio incorporate the generous, supportive swirl buzzing around the burgeoning sonic partnership of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars producer David Andrew Sitek and vocalist Tunde Adebimpe. And if you've been following the Williamsburg hype and deflation, you might feel, as I do, that the nexus of these three bands has made all the attendant shoe-gazing worthwhile--or better yet, irrelevant.

Blessed with drop-in performances by YYYs members Nick Zinner and Brian Chase and Liars' Aaron Hemphill, who threw in some sweet noise candy, the five songs on Young Liars represent the twisted wistfulness of its central two friends. On the EP, Sitek and Adebimpe, who spent their days in 2001 selling paintings on the street, are obviously using their pedals and black boxes as a way to take things apart and reassemble, to compose the frame, to apply and remove layers in an ongoing lifetime project. And in the course of that constant conversation, they're not ashamed to sound like Oz-bound balladeers. Or to take a serious run at gospel. Rumor has it that their approach will change to something unrecognizable on their full-length album due out in February, but if the addition of new band member Kyp Malone (bassist and Afroed star of the brilliant indie film Scumrock) is any indication, things will only get tastier.

The EP is a bold mix of looping electronic fuzz and pleading vocals, frequently looped in real time to create ethereal counterpoint and inspired harmonies. Recorded in 2002, what they came up with is, in essence, one of the more affecting sonic representations of 9/11 aftermath in New York--an account of the indirect emotional effects that its violence, chaos, and still-fervid reactionary blitzkrieg had on people with a distaste for mass grieving rituals or even mass protest. It's nothing less than the sound of confusion, lonely rage, the latent agency of disaffected indie-adults feeling around for spirituality.

Making good on the cog-dis technological scramble implied by their name, the premise of the first song, "Satellite," is like a Grandaddy techno-fetish bad trip involving the watery downing of the titular orbiter. Adebimpe, in laconic and frantic dissonant looped harmony, calls out, "Waiting for a signal or a sound/Where can you be found now/ My love?" The effect is Solaris-surreal, especially as, over a latecoming Tull-style flute amid a centrifuge of electronically singed debris, Adebimpe scales up into falsetto la-las. It's the sound of wanting to understand the world while locked in a cold-water flat.

Starting with Adebimpe's ghostly choral ooohs over a Spanish television broadcast, "Staring at the Sun" continues the record's hovel-bound paranoia. Nick Zinner's scarily apocalyptic wall-of-sound guitar barrage shoves up against 16th-note Casio high-hat and an errantly arriving weak disco clomp. Falsetto freak-outs are followed by an attempt to explain the problem: "We were all weaned my dear/On the same fatigue." The most Gabriel-ish of the bunch, "Blind," with its lurching beats and repeated "been so long since last December," drags a bit, but Sitek's artificially enlarged hangar space and sinister sonic injections deliver us with satisfying unease into the organ and drum-brush-hits of the anthemic "Young Liars." This slow-burn space-out is a suitably bizarre thank you to a nurturing community. The lyric expresses gratitude for the chance at extended gestation, admitting, "Someday suppose that my curious nervousness stills into prescience." And it does, with the final "secret" song, their eerie cover of the Pixies' "Mr. Grieves." Without changing the structure (a la Cat Power) and without a hint of kitsch, TV on the Radio lovingly tease out the funereal doo-wop in a post-punk classic, rewriting Black Francis into their own ceremony. And with that sincere statement of belief, they invite all of open mind and catholic taste into their sacred circle.

 
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