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TV On The Radio, Dear Science

TV On the Radio hails from Brooklyn and struck commercial and critical gold with its 2006 release, Return To Cookie Mountain. The title sounds silly, but the content was serious: “I was a lover before this war” is the record’s opening line. It was appropriate introspection in a time whose political climate garnered plenty of cynicism.

But now it’s 2008, and there is a new feeling of excitement and empowerment trickling down from politics to pop culture. TV On the Radio’s recent release, Dear Science, embodies some of this newfound energy. On “Red Dress,” funky guitar licks and sizzling horn lines groove with the drive of a James Brown backing band. “I’m scared to death that I’m living a life not worth dying for,” sings frontman Tunde Adebimpe. It’s an interesting emotional shift: an old feeling of jadedness with a new feeling of restlessness and wanting to make a difference.

Though it’s one thing to have drive, it’s another to have optimism. On Dear Science, there is plenty of it. On “Golden Age,” one of the more exciting tracks on the record, Adebimpe sings defiantly, “There’s a golden age comin’ round.” There’s that same vibrancy here from riffing electric guitars and blasting horns that never appeared on Cookie Mountain.

Though there is plenty of musicality and emotion added to the new record, there is a substantial amount of both taken away. One of Cookie Mountain’s strong points was its ability to balance songwriting with delicate arranging and a focus on sound. Producer and guitarist Dave Sitek was able to create a record that matched samples of orchestras with hip-hop drumbeats, melodic whistles with dense percussion polyrhythms that felt like African drum circles. On Dear Science, there’s a greater sense of immediacy, meaning that many of these intricacies are forgotten: Songs go on for too long, while pulsing polyrhythms are replaced by basic handclaps.

It’s true that Dear Science lacks some of the consistency and thought that Cookie Mountain had, but TV On The Radio still has a knack for internalizing the psychological and artistic inclinations of our times. This results a new record that is edgy, exciting, and vibrant like no TV On The Radio release yet. If you’re not into Dear Science, then don’t worry: Everything in mainstream society and pop culture is about to change. And when it does, the group will have plenty to say about it.

Dave Holland Sextet, Pass It On

Dave Holland is one of the most celebrated jazz musicians in the world today. He is an English bassist who kick-started his career in the ’70s playing behind Miles Davis on the Bitches Brew sessions. Since then, he has gone on to form the Dave Holland Big Band and Dave Holland Quintet (both of which are Grammy winners). Holland’s style is a technically demanding one, with many tunes written in head-spinning time signatures and moving through chord changes rapidly.

His new record, Pass It On, is his first with a sextet, which features Mulgrew Miller on piano, Robin Eubanks (who is a member of the Quintet and Big Band) on trombone, Alex Siplagin on trumpet, Antonio Hart on saxophone, and Eric Harland on drums.

Though the personnel are different, the compositions still have the same dizzying quality, and the level of creativity is, as always, tremendous. Some of the most outstanding moments come from Miller, which is interesting considering it’s been years since Holland used a piano player on one of his records. The addition gives Holland’s new record a more traditional combo sound, but still, Miller’s playing is stellar. On “Fast Track,” he glides through bluesy licks with lyricism and agility.

There’s still room for the rest of the newcomers to swing hard, too. Harland is looser than Nate Smith and Billy Kilson, older Holland drummers, but his spaciousness adds an ethereal, meditative quality. The key signatures on this record are more basic than older ones, but between Holland and Harland, there’s plenty of exploration in the patterns and hits.

After more than 30 years of playing jazz, here is Dave Holland, exploring with new musicians, trying new sonic textures, and pushing himself as a bassist. Miles would be proud.

Mariage Blanc, Broken Record

There are many types of marriage: the ones with gold-diggers, the ones with high school sweethearts, and the Hollywood ones. One form that’s rarely talked about is mariage blanc, a marriage that is intended to protect one of the newlyweds from danger. There’s no malicious intent involved, per se, but there’s still a sense of its being forced.

The band Mariage Blanc, from Pittsburgh, sounds neither forced nor dangerous. Their new EP, Broken Record, is a pack of easily digestible tunes that blend East-Coast grit and rawness with tinges of softer Southern and Midwestern country and blues (Perhaps Pittsburgh’s epicenter-like locale has helped facilitate this sound).

This is a really fun record that has a strong tendency toward playful melodies and bouncy rock grooves. “Oh, the Humanity!” has a “dah-dah-dah” refrain that feels like the glorious ending to “Hey Jude.” There’s a bouncy piano riff that feels like an old ragtime lick, and even some glass breaking off in the background.

There’s a strong focus on instrumentation, too. On “Sunken Ship,” a waltz drum pattern beats back and forth with warm, textural string lines. The tone is soft, and, most importantly, upbeat.