Dear Science, the title of Brooklyn avant-rock band TV on the Radio's latest album, is somewhat mysterious and cryptic, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than some of the other potential monikers they considered, including Donkey Cum Junior and Bacon vs. French Fries and the Battle for the Delicious Universe.
"I think it's obvious why those weren't used," says one of the band's two lead singers, Tunde Adebimpe. The title Dear Science was taken from a humorous letter his bandmate Dave Sitek wrote on a piece of notebook paper while they were in the studio screwing around to pass the time. "It's more of a non-sequitur than anything else. It just fit and was better than the other titles we'd come up with."
It feels appropriate for the band's third widely released full-length, as if appealing to reason and logic to protect us from the dystopian times that seem to lie ahead. Full of aggressive beats, minor-key schizophrenic melodies and ornery wordplay, the work is something like a soundtrack for dour times, sounding as much like massive layoffs, remotely fought wars and financial meltdown as an album can.
"I'm scared to death that I'm livin' a life that's not worth dying for," Kyp Malone sings on "Red Dress." That comes after Adebimpe starts the CD off with the line, "The lazy way they turned your head/into a rest stop for the dead."
Though they had the woes of the world on their mind while recording the album, Adebimpe claims he doesn't necessarily have much sympathy for those who will be affected.
"Right now, everywhere I look it's like, 'It's a financial crisis, financial crisis, financial crisis,'" he says. "But it's not a financial crisis for those who don't have that much money to begin with. If anything, it might be leveling things out. It's going to suck for people who are used to nice things."
Before TV on the Radio blew up in 2006 with its mesmerizing, apocalyptic major-label debut, Return to Cookie Mountain, the singer worked as a filmmaker and stop-motion animator. He recently starred in the Anne Hathaway vehicle Rachel Getting Married, and also sings a version of Neil Young's "Unknown Legend" on the film's soundtrack. Yet despite his good fortune, he doesn't count himself among the doomed elite.
"I can't get too worried about any of that stuff, because I feel like in my own life money comes and goes," he says. It appears that money is more likely to come than go in the coming months, considering that Dear Science debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard charts upon its late September debut and moved some 34,000 copies. Both of those figures are career bests.
Adebimpe claims to have been completely blindsided by his group's success. "I don't think anybody in the band would have known how many records we sold if someone hadn't sent us an e-mail," he says. "That being said, it's totally encouraging that that's happening."
TV on the Radio's breakout in a time of declining record sales mirrors that of Minneapolis indie-rap group Atmosphere, who toiled largely under the mainstream radar for years before releasing a top 5 hit earlier this year with its latest album, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold. That CD features Adebimpe on "Your Glasshouse," but its success also has him stumped.
"I feel it's obvious by now that the business of selling records is in flux and it's not really sure what it's doing," he says. "With the exception of something that's blasted down your throat and marketed into your fillings, you just really know what's going to happen when you put a record out."
It seems like it's time for the group to party, but they're keeping the champagne corked.
Though Malone has called "Golden Age" his attempt at a utopian pop song ("The age of miracles/the age of sound/where there's a golden age/comin' round") Adebimpe says that sentiment doesn't reflect Dear Science as a whole. "The whole record is definitely not a utopian record. It'd be nice to make a utopian record, but I think that would require a utopia."
Who knows what the American financial and music industries will look like 40 years from now, but Adebimpe says he hopes those who hear the album then will find it fresh sounding, rather than invoking the era when folks were buying $400,000 houses with $1.50 down.
"I hope that whenever anyone puts anything that we make on, it can kind of conjure up its own world without being too tied to any particular situation. I hope even the topical songs aren't too specific," he says.
"It would be nice if they could put it on and it would seem like it was made that morning – although they might be just staring at it because it's made of paper and plastic and those things aren't around anymore."
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