Decade :: TV On The Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (2006)


What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?

Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Since the beginning of October, Monday through Friday, we have been featuring posts detailing our favorite albums of the decade. Now with less than two weeks left in the last year of the first decade of the new millennium we are ramping up–highlighting our absolute favorites.

In its infinite forms, soulful music imbues us with a feeling of powerful familiarity or connection, breathing with so many unnameable things that came before it. In its seemingly infinite forms, experimental or post-rock, by definition, attempts to move away from the past, to create new environments, thus departing from familiar notions and feelings. Oftentimes cloaked in an urban silhouette, it can feel cold and harsh as a result. And therein lies the rub. Because while post-rock bands can and have pulled off soulful avant-garde movements before, it’s a difficult proposition. But it’s one that TV on the Radio has boldly confronted time and again, and with bold results, as evidenced by their monumental post-rock soul spin, Return to Cookie Mountain.

Cookie Mountain does indeed conjure urban cityscapes, but it doesn’t feel concrete cold and steel hard. It breathes life into its streets and makes them feel like the byways we’ve all walked before. The simplest explanation for this could be Tunde Adebimpe’s full, soaking voice or Kyp Malone’s penetrating gnarl, but that would probably be unfair to David Sitek’s progressive production. Because the tone of the record is set by his lead of the music, a lead the others fluidly follow. Whether the frenetic light speed of “Wolf Like Me” or the down-tempo thinker “A Method,” the production confidently places itself in the foreground, alongside Adebmipe and Malone’s contemplative poetry. As Adebimpe’s howl pulls a draft through the opening of “Province” (with eventual backing vocals from David Bowie), percussion and guitar are whisked into being right along with it. The music isn’t something over which the vocals are draped. It lends more than body to the songs. It at once fills and consumes them. It is empowered by them just as they are by it.

But let’s also not diminish the power of voice here, as well. For instance, the frenetic vertigo of “Wolf Like Me,” one of the most spellbinding songs of the decade, is aided as much by Adebimpe’s vocal sprint, itself becoming a powerful instrument. And that’s the sort of balance throughout that TV on the Radio consistently strike. It can be hard to pull that off in a form that’s tinkering and experimenting with non-melodies and new rhythms. Post-rock creators can get so enmeshed in aesthetic or atmosphere, that substance sometimes runs just skin deep. But Cookie Mountain’s soul burns from the inside first before even reaching surface level, when it then boils over. words/ j crosby

4 thoughts on “Decade :: TV On The Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (2006)

  1. First I have to say that I love this album as well. And you mention a bit about the production work that has driven or given great beds to the songs.

    Not to steer the ship in a different direction…
    But what do you make of the Dave Sitek work with Foals? And that relationship?
    I enjoyed Antidotes for a while but was curious to hear what it would have sounded like if Dave had completed that project.

  2. @dirkler, To be completely honest with you, I never gave it any attention, so anything I say isn’t from personal taste. However, I think it’s telling that people talk much about the influence of TVOTR and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs this decade, but the Foals debut was deemed sort of average (critically, I’ve got no dog in that fight). They, I guess (just looked it up), didn’t like the sound he was creating. But maybe that’s also the difference between doing catchy pop tunes that strike once or twice but don’t resonate beyond, versus creating work that people keep going back to. Seems like at least it would’ve been heavier/lower in tone, judging by Sitek’s past work/style. Still, dealing with “ifs” is dicey territory–maybe it would’ve been better (or just different), maybe it would’ve been worse or the same. Who knows? (There’s also a matter of ability on the band’s part, of course.) Ultimately, I suppose, if that’s not the sound the band wants, then it’s the wrong direction for them no matter what it might’ve sounded like under different circumstances.

  3. @j.crosby Great to hear another opinion (even if you’re not specifically familiar with the record) But you make a great point that there’s probably a reason I only enjoyed the record for a little while…
    It had no lasting power.
    And I agree that when it comes down to it? It’s the band’s album. It’s their name on the cover, not Dave’s. So if they’re not into the work he’s doing on it (even though he might have made it better…) they still have to be the ones backing it.

  4. like source tags & codes before it, i quickly put this album on before reading your write up.

    return to cookie mountain initially repelled me. it came at a time when i was really just getting into music blogs and it was so universally lauded that when i finally got around to listening to some of its tracks, i couldn’t see what all the fuss was over.

    luckily, i have good friends who encouraged me to give it another spin and i’m so glad i did. i consider TVOTR to be one of my favorite bands and feel this album deserves a spot among the top albums of the decade.

    i’m really enjoying this series and am stoked to see which albums will make the cut as 2009 dwindles away.

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