TV On The Radio - Mercy | Track Review | By Volume

The kid that went down isn't dead; he just can't find his phone. The Hold Steady - Almost Everything
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TV On The Radio

Mercy

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Author: on August 5, 2013

What is the probable manifesto for the career path of a band that sounds like TV on the Radio? ‘1: Create challenging music. 2: Become critics’ darlings. 3: Develop cult following. 4: Most importantly, stay underground.’ Right? Wrong.

This simple 4-step plan proved too conservative an ideology, as a string of dense, pseudo-ambient sleeper-hit albums culminated in 2008’s Dear Science. Suddenly we had funk-jazz-rap crossovers “Golden Age” and “Dancing Choose” on our radios. That little archaic box in the kitchen that your parents listen to was now oozing sexual prowess and downright dirty basslines. 2011’s Nine Types of Light trod the same maniacal path, if in a somewhat more restrained manner, and both albums found themselves on innumerable ‘Best of Year’ lists. So when lung cancer claimed the life of bassist Gerard Smith shortly after Nine Types of Light‘s release, a maudlin tone respectively coated their back catalogue. Even in its most frantic, joyous moments, it was now contemplative and wistful, and ultimately more beautiful.

Two years, in such a context, seems a courageously short timespan. Rather than continue down the more melodic, melancholic route their music was expected to take, “Mercy” is an unstrained lightning bolt to the ears. TV on the Radio have taken a bold step forward and decided, musically at least, to manifest loss not through sadness but through unadulterated rage.

It’s pulsating. It’s pounding. It’s three minutes of relentless power chords and a palpitating rhythm section. Singer Tunde Adebimpe’s characteristically sharp, cutting vocal melody adroitly dodges the rampant landslide of synths and the barrage of distorted downstrokes combined with a ferocious Steven Morris-esque backing beat. It’s pissed off and it wants to damn well make sure nobody is going to mistake it as being beautiful. Yet, as messed-up and charismatically insane as it is, this is also TV on the Radio at their most focused, and this all lies in the studio treatment. Where guitarist Dave Sitek’s production has often come across as impenetrably, almost suffocatingly opaque, on “Mercy” it has blossomed into a crisp, vibrantly colourful portal through which to behold the band’s new direction, if indeed this is a new direction at all. It all sounds so natural that you have to wonder where TV on the Radio have been hiding this post-punk indignation all these years, and as an inflammable musical statement it stands as one of the most exciting new releases by any band since Dear Science all those years ago.

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