An easy description of TV on the Radio doesn't exist. There are too many genres swept up in the band's gale-force delivery, the atmosphere of which is so inky it defies illumination. There may be shades of doo-wop (to call it barbershop is stretching it) to Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe's singing, and sometimes there's a glint of the familiar. But then it's gone, and what's left is a band that's as enigmatic as it is magnetic.
These frustrations abound as Return to Cookie Mountain unspools—but only if you let them. It's better to shelve your expectations from the start and just let the album be the post-everything feat it is.
Cookie Mountain is densely peopled with samples and loops, horns, strings, woodwinds, and even electric sitar, all twitchy and gurgling alongside more traditional rock instruments that are also bent unnervingly to the band's will. The guiding light is the strange, soulful singing of the aforementioned duo, with their lulling "oohs" and "ahs" and careful, diamond-sharp lyrics.
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On "Province"—on which, yes, the rumors are true, David Bowie sings—the thrilling risks of embarking on a new romance are conjured via falcons and autumn leaves, and the key line tumbles out with several voices behind it: "Stand steadfast and see/That love is the province of the brave."
The opening "I Was a Lover" would seem equally sweet if the content weren't steeped in alienation and disgust. The images in "Tonight" are potent as well—"The needle, the dirty spoon/The flames and the fumes"—and from there, we're upon the closing "Wash the Day Away!"—which, besides its desires for cleansing, features this humdinger: "I brought you flowers from the dying woods of Brazil."
Delivered between mentions of landfills and car bombs, it's a romantic gesture in the face of crumbling reality. Maybe, after all, TV on the Radio is the prom band for kids who read too many books, looked to the skies expecting doomsday and, of course, didn't go to prom. Maybe the world is ending tomorrow, but there's still time for one last dance.
TV on the Radio and Ohsees at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona; www.theglasshouse.us. Tues., 7:30 p.m. $15.