TV on the Radio is one of the most critically adored acts in the underground, since it burst on the scene with its 2004 full-length debut, "Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes," and the group appears on the verge of joining acts like R.E.M., Sonic Youth and The Flaming Lips in crossing over to a mainstream phenomenon with its latest, "Dear Science."
The Brooklyn, N.Y., quintet blends plentiful samples, throbbing rhythms, crackling guitars and rich vocals into widescreen, genre-spanning art-rock, although even laying a label on sound is difficult. At times overpopulated with sonic ideas in dark, thickly limber arrangements, the group opens things up on the new album with jauntier, upbeat rhythms and brighter, more digestible melodies. But singer/guitarist Kyp Malone said "Science" isn't less layered than previous releases.
"It's just more carefully selected in its placed sounds," he said. "The total track count is pretty much the same if not more than a lot of (2006's 'Return to) Cookie Mountain.' It's just organized differently."
The entire band contributes to the sound, which may help explain the size and scope of its sonic tapestries.
"There's five people with five different views trying to contribute a great deal to it. Everybody has particular ideas on how things should go, but fortunately, we trust each other enough that if someone has a very particular idea we give it a chance," Malone said.
It isn't just the music that's heady. "Dear Science" takes its name from a letter guitarist David Andrew Sitek posted in the group's recording space. The memo was addressed to Science and demanded the discipline silence itself or fix all the things it's talked about. But there's a more positive attitude present as well, including "Lover's Day," which attempts to broaden the love song beyond the minimal subject matter Public Enemy's Chuck D described as "sex for profit."
"A lot of what is sexualized in our culture is hot because it's naughty," Malone said. "I feel like sex can be awesome divorced from that whole paradigm of sin or taboo. Sex is awesome because it's sex. Because it's one of the best expressions of joy that we have as human animals."
While Malone objects that the band isn't as serious as it's often depicted " "We don't just sit around talking about politics or practicing scales" " he's unapologetic about the challenging nature of its lyrical themes. He suggests that if people don't like politics in music, they shouldn't sing the national anthem.
"That's political music that supports the dominant paradigm, music to keep the status quo. It's music to buy candles by, music to shop by. That's a political act," he said. "Being a consumer is a political act. It may not be a conscious choice that people are making or think they are making, but they are definitely making choices that have political ramifications."
TV on the Radio, with Little Dragons, performs at 8 p.m. Monday at Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern. "Chris Parker