The received wisdom regarding the music of TV on the Radio is that it's somehow unclassifiable and just a tad "difficult" due to its very unclassifiability I even read a suggestion that it was the sort of music to admire rather than actually like.
This is just so much horseshit, and it doesn't take much to refute it even
a cursory listen to the band's new one, Return to Cookie Mountain, would
suffice. In fact, the new album has generally received glowing notices so far,
but often with the caveat that it is still hard to pin down (or pigeonhole).
This preconception may partly arise from the label, 4AD, which is still, to some extent, a byword for the more esoteric side of indie rock. Being on 4AD seems to mean that any discussion of TV on the Radio's "blackness" is sidestepped. But TV on the Radio's music seems, to me, to be full of soul/funk/doo-wop musical references, placing it in a tradition of maverick black sounds reaching back to Sly &The Family Stone, Parliament/Funkadelic and, more recently, OutKast.
TVOR incorporate stiffer, glam-orientated percussion and shrill swathes of noise-guitar into their mutant soul grooves, shifting the emphasis away from low-end swing to trebly dissonance. And it's fitting that one David Bowie contributes his backing vocals to the track "Province," since much of this album reads like a belated response to the stiff white funk and glossy soul of Station to Station and Young Americans.
The subtext here is organic vs. mechanic, modernist grooves mixing it up with the earthy, expressive earthy sway of harmonizing voices. And while there's room for the thundering alt-rock stampede of "Wolf Like Me" and "Blues From Down Here," there is also the sparsely arranged doo-wop of "AMethod," a jazzy clarinet interlude during "Tonight" and the skitterish funk of the gloriously messy "Playhouses."
Whichever way you look at it, as avant-pop or cubist soul, Return to Cookie Mountain remains an intoxicating, intriguing but accessible album.