Recuperating from the tragic loss of its bassist, Gerard Smith—who died of lung cancer just a week and a half after the release of its 2011 album, Nine Types of Light—TV on the Radio unleashed its fifth, most anticipated studio album Seeds this week. But while Seeds manifests the eclectic style that established TV on the Radio as a prominent act in the alternative genre, the record falls short in developing its complex themes and sound. Although there are several instances of lyrical genius on the album, the content is overall contrived: hopeful futures and dysfunctional relationships are too heavy relied upon for subject matter.
Although TV on the Radio is mostly qualified as an indie rock group, the group transcends the boundaries of genre, gathering sounds from many popular categories of music. At times, TV on the Radio takes on the fundamental of rap and hip-hop—tracks like “Careful You,” “Trouble,” and “Love Stained” have hardly an alternative rock feel. Other tracks like “Lazerray” and “Winter” adhere to the principles of grunge rock. TV on the Radio does a nice job of molding beats to fit the sounds of other genres.
Adebimpe’s rhythmic manipulation and vocal layering stands out on Seeds. In several tracks, the meter and rhyme scheme change between verses, showing off the group’s strong understanding of song construction. Although the vocal layering found on Seeds can be overwhelming at times, it adds the substance to Seeds that its lyrics overall lack. The album is a feat of technical ingenuity, with genre-bending detail adding an impressive character to it all.
Despite the effort put into the more technical qualities of the album, Seeds lacks the compelling and diverse lyrical content that could have possibly launched it into the stratosphere. Love, although almost an unavoidable theme in all genres of music and most albums, appears as the central issue in almost all tracks on Seeds. “Quartz,” for example, focuses on the speaker’s conflict acknowledging he “should really give it up sometime.” He questions “how hard must we try?” Similarly, in “Careful You” the speaker wonders, “Don’t know / Should we stay? / Should we go?” Although this theme of strained relationships is overused on the album, it does allow for some particularly interesting lyrics like, “Could you strip the ego bare, let love take flight,” and, “Lay down your lantern, coat of arms, broken drums, and dance with me.” These and other impressive lines found throughout the album, coupled with the technical masterpiece that is Seeds more easily distinguish a cliche theme that, like in multitudes of similar situations, holds TV on the Radio back from actualizing its potential.
Working through the loss of a band member and an uncertain future, TV on the Radio makes an impressive return to the studio with the group’s latest album, Seeds. Drawing inspiration from artists working in almost every facet of music, TV on the Radio impresses the listener with careful composition of sound, flow, and vibrancy in its tracks. Seeds’ monotonous overarching themes detract greatly from the monumental technical achievements of the album, however. Hopefully in the future, TV on the Radio can approach the themes behind its work with the same care it puts toward its production detail. TV on the Radio’s roots are very much intact, but Seeds is scattered, grounding its sound in fallow concepts.
Featured Image Courtesy of Harvest Records