Out of Bohemia 

Brooklyn birthed TV on the Radio, but doesn't define it

Kyp Malone is otherworldly in appearance. With his towering rounded Afro, glasses with thick, black rims, and facial hair that can grow like kudzu along his chin, Malone is unintentionally striking. The singer/guitarist of TV on the Radio -- yet another band from post-punk hipster bastion Williamsburg, Brooklyn -- embodies his outfit's use of familiar elements to create unique performances.

Much in the way the band forces together dark anti-melodies and heavenly voices, Malone generated a similar unease when mistaken as a terrorist by a New Jersey Transit bus driver. After two uniformed police officers climbed on board at LaGuardia Airport and checked Malone's bag and his government-issued ID, the cops and the bus driver apologized for inconveniencing him.

"I just seethed in my seat," says Malone. "The seething that can only feed anger and animosity that exists already in people who feel like they are living in a society that they are alienated from just by the way that it's set up, and the frustrations that people feel due to economic disparity."

This sensitivity to the current atmosphere in "paranoid America" boils underneath TV on the Radio's cloudy suspension for those willing to ride. Like Malone's inability to remain inconspicuous in a crowd, TV on the Radio stands out among other Williamsburg bands. With moody loops of distorted sound providing a seedy underbelly of texture, TV on the Radio isn't melodically dark post-punk like fashionably tailored Interpol. It's not like the more punk-funk revivalists Rapture. It's not art-punk like Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Liars -- though TV on the Radio beat programmer/guitarist David Sitek has produced records by both bands.

TV on the Radio is disillusioned soul searching set to mechanized rumbles. Guitars pulse over the stormy gloom like flares from an ill-fated ship on the band's debut full-length, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. Reed instruments sometimes flutter atop the cycling backbone like birds weaving through a hunter's bullets. Above the seemingly uncontrolled chaotic foundation is singing about standard progressive young adult emotions, from reactionist politics to the trials of love.

Reminiscent in tone to slave spirituals, meticulously layered into spiraling sound apparitions, vocalist Tunde Adebimpe and Malone create a hypnotizing effect. The injured but soulful croons serve as the silver lining amid guttural soundscapes, or stand alone as they do on the Desperate Youth a cappella "Ambulance," and on the group's cover of the Pixies' "Mister Grieves" on last year's critically acclaimed Young Liars EP.

"I've always really just liked strong vocals," says Adebimpe, who counts Nina Simone, Blind Willie McTell and old K Records' compilations as key influences. "Anything that was so stripped down and communicated to the listener something very clearly, but also you could hear [how] the recording [was done]. It's almost like the sound of folk music, like anybody can do it."

The heterogeneous mix of soul and clamor, a sort of post-apocalyptic Motown, came into being in 2000 when Adebimpe and Sitek, both visual artists, met and shared their individual four-track recordings. The duo formed TV on the Radio as a live improv act before putting out Young Liars and adding Malone. After some time as a live (but rehearsed) electronic and vocal act, the breaking of a sampler on a trip to Iceland last fall forced the band to consider using traditional equipment and augmenting to a five-piece.

The new members and the switch to more familiar instruments have resulted in a new outlook on recording, too. Having already laid down some new tracks as a quintet, Adebimpe is looking to bring some of Brooklyn's old school to its soon-to-be-old hot spot with the next record.

"I'd like to run the gambit from mini-disc recorders and microcassette recorders to something that sounds like it's on a stage to something that sounds like it's more indoors and kind of hermetically sealed," says Adebimpe, "and go in and out of those and just try to achieve a synthesis of them. Just like the sound of [The Beastie Boys'] Paul's Boutique: It's such an intricate album, it goes to so many places and, for me, it never loses its integrity the entire time."

Integrity in the face of fear and conformity may be as radical as putting TV on the Radio.

nikhil.swaminathan@creativeloafing.com

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