TV on the Radio aren’t as an immediate band to get into as some reviews might have you believe. I loved their first EP Young Liars but found their debut LP ‘Desperate Youth Blood Thirsty Babes‘ wearyingly oppressive and turgid and two-starred it in an unpopular Amazon review. I have given Return to Cookie Mountain more time, and whereas some of the heavy atmospherics can veer towards pretentious overload, there is more hookiness and focus to this recording. David Bowie is an obvious influence (in particular his underrated Outside) – and the great man himself appears on the excellent ‘Province’ – but it is fair to say that they have developed a distinctive sound of their own: the grimy, churning guitars, the soulful barbershop harmonies, the cavernous production.
The singular opener ‘I Was A Lover’, one of Return to Cookie Mountain‘s best tracks, is also one of the hardest to describe, with its cut and paste aesthetic and falsetto vocal hook. Hours is moody and urban with a hint of Peter Gabriel, but gently swells into alt-rock territory. ‘Playhouses’ is all heavy distortion and fast-drumming that doesn’t hold together as well, while ‘Wolf Like Me’ is the closest this album has to an anthem, with its melodic refrain of ‘Howling… Forever’ gradually emerging out of the fog of frenetic guitars. ‘A Method’ takes their penchant of barbershop harmonising to its most successful extreme while the swashbuckling, raucous ‘Let the Devil In’ displays the influence of the Pixies and Tom Waits. Dirtywhirl has more crossover appeal while the goth-tinged and darkly propulsive ‘Blues From Down Here’ could be The Sisters of Mercy. The atmospheric ‘Tonight’ bears a (probably unwitting) resemblance to prototype shoegazers A.R. Kane, for whom the term Oceanic was coined. The dissapointing closer ‘Wash the Day’, on the other hand, tries to throw everything into the mix for a climatic finale but is a bit of a mess. Lots to enjoy though, and a step in the right direction.