Formed in: 2001, Brooklyn, New York
Key Albums: Return to Cookie Mountain (2006), Dear Science (2008)
TV on the Radio are a five-piece rock-band from Brooklyn who have become, quite possibly, the most critically-acclaimed act of this decade. Both their Return to Cookie Mountain and Dear Science albums have received numerous 'Album of the Year' nominations upon their release.
TV on the Radio were born in 2001, when Sitek moved into the loft Adebimpe was living in, in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood. "It just became apparent very quickly that we were going to be friends," Adebimpe recalls, in an interview with The Scotsman. "His room was full of all this musical equipment with nothing but a mattress, and my room was full of paints and video equipment and nothing but a mattress."
Soon Adebimpe, who'd grown up with a love of alternative luminaries like The Pixies, Polvo, Sonic Youth, Superchunk, Pavement, began making experimental recordings with Sitek. "We just made weird four-track stuff and locked ourselves in the house and drank way too much coffee, did beat-boxing and all that."
These recordings would form the basis of the first, semi-self-released 'album' OK Calculator, which essentially served as the band's demo.
With guitarist Kyp Malone, on loan from noise-pop act Iran, TV on the Radio played their first 'real' show on Valentine's Day, 2003. Their first release, the Young Liars EP, was issued in July by Chicago indie Touch & Go, whom Sitek had come to know through his involvement with Yeah Yeah Yeahs. For an Icelandic tour in August, the band recruited Gerard Smith and Jaleel Bunton to play drums and bass, respectively; cementing TV on the Radio's lineup.
The additions of Smith and Bunton made TVOTR four-fifth's African-American, a rarity in indie music. "At the beginning of our career it was a like a gothic freak show," Adebimpe told Harp. Yet, "I've been asking myself the same question since I was 12: 'Why am I the only black kid at a punk-rock show?'"
Still, its members have been angered with the subject is brought up "The idea that it's weird that black people play rock'n'roll [is] just absurd, a form of cultural amnesia," Sitek spat, to the Sydney Morning Herald. "What about Chuck Berry, for f**k's sake?"
"A few people have asked me, in effect, 'Isn't it weird that you're making rock music and not rap? Do you think you're going to get in trouble?'," Malone said to Neumu, in 2004. "And I would like to add something to the world that makes that question seem as retarded as it actually is."
Mostly, TV on the Radio just hope no one views them as racial novelty. "I've always shied away from any minority artists who use their minority status to qualify their work, be it homosexual, Latino or whatever," Bunton offered, to The Line of Best Fit. It seems like you’re begging people not to take you seriously."
In March, 2004, TVOTR released their debut LP-proper, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, a disc Adebimpe calls "a super overproduced-sounding album." Despite a dreadful name and even worse cover-art, the album immediately found its admirers; including David Bowie, who first heard the band after his doorman bought paintings and CDs off Sitek and Malone in 2003. The album won the 2004 Shortlist Music Prize.
Almost immediately, the band set about working on its follow-up, Return to Cookie Mountain. Smoking over "a pound of weed a month," Sitek built up multi-layered production, roping in members of Celebration, Antibalas, Blonde Redhead, and even Bowie himself, all on hand to help Sitek realize his dream of making “music you will be listening to when the whole world burns up.”
Written in response to the Iraq War and America's heightened state of political paranoia, Return to Cookie Mountain is an album peering into an imminent apocalypse. "I watched Apocalypse Now seven times while we were making the album," Sitek told Remix. "All the evidence is there that the world could be ending, so while we were making the record, we were constantly reminded of that by what was happening around us."
In 2008, TV on the Radio released their third album, Dear Science. Written as an open letter to the quantification of human understanding, the record peeled away the dark clouds and reveled in a sense of joyousness, coincidentally matching the shift from Bush-era to Barack-era America. "It gets kind of tiresome being dark and brooding," Malone told The Gothamist, of the LP's upbeat feeling.
The record managed to surpass even the critical adoration slathered upon Return to Cookie Mountain, being named 'Album of the Year' by Rolling Stone, Spin, The AV Club, MTV, The Guardian, and countless others.
Dear Science also became the band's most commercially successful record, debuting at #4 on the US charts. It marked a reward for the band's unwavering sense of ambition.
"We always wanted to reach a lot of people. We never wanted to be obscure," Sitek told The Scotsman, after the the record's release. "To do an album of this magnitude, just in terms of the sheer number of things that had to be done, the musicians involved and the studio hours spent – if we didn't have my studio, who knows? We could have been really in debt for the rest of our entire beings."
After taking a year's hiatus —that effectively resulted in Malone released a 2009 album as Rain Machine, and Sitek a 2010 LP as Maximum Balloon— TV on the Radio returned in 2011 with their fourth LP-proper, Nine Types of Light, the band's slickest, least-tortured, and most soulful set. Once again, it met with general acclaim, but it was less feverish than prior LPs.