10 Years Ago: TV on the Radio Justify Their Hype With ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’
When it came to indie rock buzz a little over a decade ago, nobody could touch TV on the Radio. The fuss and fawning surrounding the collective was virtually unavoidable, beginning in earnest during the waning months of 2005 when the band was spotted hanging out with David Bowie. He would go on to guest on their second full-length album (and major label debut), Return to Cookie Mountain, which came out in July of 2006.
Bowie, in the beginning of a musical hiatus that would last some ten years, had been turned onto the Brooklyn outfit while at a photo shoot where TV on the Radio’s 2003 EP Young Liars had been playing in the background. Proving to be once again ahead of the curve, the Thin White Duke got in touch with band guitarist and keyboard player Dave Sitek to pay his compliments. It turned into a friendship, leading Bowie to be invited to the studio to lay down backing vocals on the gorgeous single “Province.”
Perhaps Bowie saw something of himself in TVOTR, with their lack of fear in mixing genres, shifting soundscapes and ignoring conventional ideas in approaching songs. What separated them at the time from all the multitude of artists springing out of the suddenly fertile grounds of the hip Kings County borough were original and honest dramatics managing to appeal to mainstream listeners. There was also the fact that elements of the music felt so familiar; street corner doo-wop (“A Method”) and a mix of high-pitched harmonies ("Dirtywhirl," "Wash the Day") that wouldn’t be out of place on a Stax/Volt release from the early '60s were sprinkled throughout the record.
Then there’s the burning swagger of “Wolf Like Me,” a track which instantly had music lovers across the world drumming on desks and dancing in place to it halfway through the first listen. If placed strictly into a rock category, it would easily crash the top 10 best of list for song of the year, due in part to an airy and haunting middle section breakdown, where the ambiance changes and everything slows while a sense of urgency brims. When singer Tunde Adebimpe intones, “Show you what all that howl is for,” right before the skittering guitar and rat-a-tat drums kick back in, it’s like being on a rollercoaster that just click-clacked to its highest point before overwhelming rush of the drop comes.
Yet “Wolf Like Me,” along with Return to Cookie Mountain as a whole, spreads beyond classification into any one genre; it’s both an assortment of them and none of them. The end result, with all the layers involved having been put down via experimentation consciously stretched boundaries, indeed justifies what all that howl was for.
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