Tunde Adebimpe may be the only standout vocalist in indie rock today. You could argue for Antony as a possible rival, but as amazing as Antony is, his vocals cannot create soundscapes the way Adebimpe does. With his vocals in the forefront, TV on the Radio have accomplished an interesting feat. They have established a trademark sound while still allowing their music to grow organically from album to album. This is because his soulful croons and wails are as much part of the band’s identity as any of the music they create. He is not the face of the band, nor even the principle creator of the band’s musical pallet, but he is the soul of the band.
Adebimpe’s role as soul of TV on the Radio gives every song, especially on Return to Cookie Mountain, a pulsing heartbeat that is audible in the midst of music, whether it is deftly orchestrated beats and samples – such as the album opener “I Was a Lover” – or a simplistic drum and organ backbeat – like “Hours.” The layered trilling and moaning of Adebimpe’s voice is what so many people will think of when someone mentions TV on the Radio. He is simultaneously the band’s Prince and Barry White depending on whether he is affecting the suave yet stilted lover or the simply suave.
If we take Adebimpe’s stellar singing as read, the music of TV on the Radio is equally worthy of praise. They cycle through the feedback and fuzz drone of “Playhouses,” the nearly acapella half-gospel of “A Method,” and the David Bowie augmented chiming “Province” like they own each and every sound they create. Unlike some of their contemporaries, TV on the Radio’s expansive and all-inclusive sound benefits from the slick production on their first major label release. With the room to breath, each song is able to expand outward to the very brink of what it is able to hold without sounding cluttered. It enables each song to be as enveloping or jagged as it should be.
Whether you credit the production or simply the band’s every expanding vision, Return to Cookie Mountain is TV On the Radio’s most all-encompassing release to date. Even without lyrics, the organic nature of the music coupled with warmth and life of Tunde Adebimpe’s voice makes the band capable of expressing as many human emotions as any music conceivably could. With major label support, a growing following, and output that seems to only get better as the band progresses, TV on the Radio could become an American institution if we are not careful. That is just what I am afraid of. Music this vital is a personal experience rather than a commercial one. But given the band’s attitude towards the business half of the music business so far, I hope my fears are unfounded.