After their awesome Young Liars EP, TV On The Radio dropped their semi-inconsistent album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, which had some standout tracks, but never quite seemed to harness all their power. At some point in the past two years since then, the group made the jump to a major label and supposedly (if interviews can be believed) smoked something like one metric ton of marijuana while recording their follow-up.
The oddly-titled Return To Cookie Mountain is the second album from the group, and while it lags a bit in places, it's a huge step up in terms of songwriting and continuity. Released on 4AD Records in Europe earlier this year, the domestic version of the album not only features a different running order, but some bonus tracks as well. "I Was A Lover" kicks things off on a strong foot as chunky beats pile on top of murky orchestral loops and fuzzy textural guitars while singers Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone weave some crooning harmonies.
After the opener, the more straightforward "Hours" definitely feels more traditional, but the organ / bass / horn / live drum track keeps things moving nicely with some hooky vocal melodies and a traditional pop structure. From there, the group drops the heavy textures again, and it's a joy as they pile in dense layers of sound with their multi-vocal attack. "Playhouses" is a particular standout, as choppy beats are almost completely swallowed up by billowing blasts of hazy noise and those luscious crooning vocals by Adebimpe and Malone.
Just about the time you're feeling lulled by the slower pace, the group wisely kicks things up a notch with "Wolf Like Me" and short horn blasts punctuate a blistering track that features all the album touchpoints (hazy feedback effects, shimmering chimes, soaring vocals) mixed with alternately subdued and flat-out rollicking sections that seem to highlight all the strengths of the group.
I'd be lying if I said that the second half kept up the amazing pace of the first half, but it seems that the group runs through their bag of tricks early and then works on re-assembling those pieces in different ways from there out. In places, it makes for somewhat re-hashed sounding pieces (the horn-driven "Blues From Down Here") while in others ("Dirtywhirl") the group seems to zoom into yet more undiscovered experimental pop territory.
After several silent tracks and a short ambient piece, the bonus three songs on the disc start. There's probably a reason that they're separated from the actual release, as none of them really stand out a whole lot. Even the El-P remix of "Hours" doesn't really do much of anything other than crimp the vocal track and add some extra bump to the beats. That said, they are "bonus" tracks and don't really subtract from the release itself, which is a definite step-up for the group (although I have no idea how a major label will market it to a wide market). Dense and substantive, Return To Cookie Mountain is a nice head-trip to take.