Growing up in Houston, Texas, we had a good share of tropical storms, tornados, and similarly vicious naturally-occurring dangers. Our electricity went out all the time. We knew why you shouldn't build on a flood plain. On more than one occasion, my family crouched in the center of our house, huddled beneath doorways, our windows left open (to release dangerous air pressure), waiting for the storm to pass overhead, or down the block, or wherever it chose. We'd listen for the sound of a freight train, since that was what the storm was supposed to sound like. And we'd also listen to this little battery-operated radio, one that I found fascinating because it had a separate band for television stations that allowed us to listen to TV on the radio.
Now, I have no idea how Brooklyn's TV on the Radio came up with their name, but hearing their debut EP, Young Liars, inspires me to think of such things. It is an evocative work, to say the least. It's affected me, and based on what I've been reading, it's affected thousands of other listeners as well. It's a wholly original sound, so organic and natural, so beatific in the way it breathes through a handful of songs that miraculously develop and envelop the audience all with the strongest vocals anyone's heard from an underground outfit in years, atop David Andrew Sitek and Kyp Malone's lush, grinding arrangements.
The lead track, "Satellite," slowly brews up the band's sound, lets it bubble up into a slightly disparate full-on melody that's punctuated by lead singer Tunde Adebimpe's inventive vocal syncopation: (caps illustrate stressed syllables, hyphens indicate words run together) "I'm waiting-for-a-SIGNAL-OR-A-SOUND/ Where-can-you-be FOUND NOW?/ Where-can-you-be FOUND NOW?/ MY LOVE Where-can-you-be?/ Waiting-for-a SIGNAL OR A SOUND?") It's an enjoyable, head-bobbing number, and innovative but only a taste of what's to come.
And then the EP mightily breaks into full swing with "Staring at the Sun," a controlled, surging epic, breathing sensuality and danger. It's a strong-paced track that demands the listener stay involved, hanging onto every buried-in-the-mix guitar attack, onto every word. If any of the EP's songs could be described as the "hit single," this would be the one. But its accessibility is a far stretch, as TVOTR would rather challenge than woo us.
And almost on cue, "Blind" shows TV on the Radio playing a new card "cathartic" and utterly without any blinking of eyes on our part. A droning dirge with loosely strung together lyrics, soaring vocals, and an insistent fade-out refrain, "Save yourself/ I save you all the time," all only underscore the power of the track.
The title track, "Young Liars," ends the EP proper with a march, a manifesto, a call-to-arms for everything that TV on the Radio are, and most likely the things their audience see in themselves as well: It's not pretty on the surface, it's yearning for release ("Fucking for fear of not wanting to fear again"), and it's found it here, at least for for a brief moment.
Tacked at the end is a bonus track a cover of the Pixies' "Mr. Grieves." Not exactly a cappella (there's a stand-up bass that supports the rhythm), it's a barbershop set meeting at the figurative crossroads, ready as ever to trade some souls with the devil. Adebimpe's multiple vocal overdubs astound in their intensity and the way he revels in Black Francis's dark imagery, invoking an inimitable bleakness and world-weariness, a feeling of ultimate solitude and fellowship in the pains of life that make one appreciate hearing a faint signal from a familiar television show, a comforting voice amidst the very real dangers of violent, life-threatening storms those metaphorical, and those casually chopping away the tops of pine trees in your own backyard.