Thursday, March 8, 2012

TV On The Radio-Return To Cookie Mountain (JHO Hall Of Fame)

"Return To Cookie Mountain" is one hard nut to crack. I remember back in the late summer and early fall of 2006 trying to embrace the sophomore effort from TV On The Radio. The knotty beats, the dissonant reverberations, the mournful spirit....it's not an album that is exactly welcoming the listener to a party. But there was something nestled deep inside those traits that was asking for me to explore a little further. And soon, there was different forms of light showing me the way. My first conquest of love happened on "Province". The muffled verses sang like a wounded animal, the backing vocals including David Bowie, and the oohs that led into each passage all became clearer to me. And the line in the chorus actually showed some hope: "Hold your heart courageously...That love is the province of the brave." "Province" had a dark undercurrent, but once the chorus hit me, I was in. It has one of my favorite videos of the naughties as well. And with that, I was hooked for the next year and a half on a trip to cookie mountain.

Each listen revealed another favorite song, or element of a song I missed before. The dual vocals from Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe became chant like, preaching to me from a dark alley in a big city. They offered hope, desolation and loneliness. They hit almost Beach Boys' like harmonies on "A Method", chanted like they were huddled around a giant bonfire on "Let The Devil In", and became bittersweet and seductive on "Dirtywhirl". While at first the vocals seemed distant, they became guiding lights on repeated visits.

The lyrics and themes from the songs started to sink in more with each listen. On the chorus of "Playhouses", one can see a disintegrating relationship: "I meant every word/Just didn't know your demons/Do you know mine, babe?/Are we wasting time, babe?"...and you get the feeling you want to go in and help counsel. That feeling of broken relationships is even more prevalent on the opener "I Was A Lover". It has the audacity to trick you into thinking it could be a governmental protest song at the beginning: "I was a lover. before this war/ held up in a luxury suite/ behind a barricaded door". Upon closer investigation, it's clearly a nasty song about a troubled marriage. The lines, "Mano y mano, on a bed of nails", "And we don't make eye contact, when we have run-in's in town", and "But we're sleepwalking through this trial" all make huge impacts of an imploding relationship between a stuttering beat, a monotone horn section and a sample from Masssive Attack's "Teardrop". Know someone having troubles in their marriage? Maybe they can identify with Tunde Adebimpe on "I Was A Lover".

And those musical dressings are just three of a hundred tricks that guitarist/producer David Sitek has littered all over "Return To Cookie Mountain". Listen to the tribal drums laid down on "Let The Devil In" and you would think you were at a cult's meeting. Or how he dresses the gorgeous "Hours" with flute and cellos. Or how the disco stomp of "Wolf Like Me" has guitars shredding like buzz-saws through the whole affair. It's audibly stunning to sit through an hour of so many tricks and turns. And the most hushed beautiful moment, for me, is near the end with "Tonight". The oohs that lead into each verse are ethereal. Each passage that goes by leads me to feel I'm walking down a desolate street in a big city, skyscrapers all around and Tunde Adebimpe & Kyp Malone are lending the perfect lullaby vocals, finishing each passage off with an ode of what to do tonight. My favorite: "A rusty heart starts to whine/In its tell tale time/So free it up tonight." And a clarinet part comes in somewhere along the line to stunning effects. And if "Tonight" doesn't end the album like it rightfully should, take comfort in the pure white noise bliss of the proper closer, "Wash The Day Away".

It hasn't even been six years since it's release. And in that time, TV On The Radio has released a mighty fine "Dear, Science" and a slow grower with "Nine Types Of Light". They've become one of my favorite bands from the past decade by not hitting me over the head with big hooks and choruses. Instead, they lend a road map to help you find your way to what you like the most. I won't argue with anyone if they say "Dear, Science or even their fine debut "Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes" is their finest moment. Both of those albums shine as well. But here's the thing....I fell slowly in love with "Return To Cookie Mountain" for all of the reasons mentioned above. It's a dark place I love to nestle in (the nest on the front cover looks like the perfect place) and take stock in the world around me. The images it conjures in my mind lead me to places I've seen but never been to. It's mine to keep and I'm sure it will be a favorite of mine for many years to come. Because of the wonderful production, the yearning oohs and the thought provoking lyrics, it's one of my favorites of all time. It's a wonderfully desolate place to visit anytime I need to get away. And I thank these guys from Brooklyn who continually make grand landscapes to get lost in. Welcome to my Hall Of Fame.

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