Godfathers of early-aughts NYC indie rock, TV On The Radio, come out swinging on their sixth album, and first since the death of their bassist Gerard Smith in 2011 (who died of lung cancer only days after the release of Nine Types of Light – QRO review). Opener “Quartz” portends a record of propulsive energy with the clanging alarm of a bell over bright handclaps, as singer Tunde Adebimpe asks, “How hard must we try / To set things in motion?” Once the big, steady 4/4 beat kicks in, it’s clear the quartet don’t need to try very hard at all – Dave Sitek’s production is as clean as ever, and TVOTR’s trademark sound is in full effect: soaring harmonies, fuzzy guitars and subtle studio flourishes all skip along surfaces of ambient synth pads. As if the world needed proof these guys have their aesthetic down to a science.
Like most of the band’s work, Seeds is very cohesive. The record does, however, sag a bit in the mid-section. Its central lyrical themes dwell mainly on love, loss, and regret, presumably processing the death of their fellow band mate Smith. Sonically, however, the album sounds hopeful and cathartic. This is the record of a band that’s been through the ringer only to come out stronger on the other side.
The twelve songs seem divided into three acts: Act I features the most energetic pop songs, including their two singles, “Careful You” and “Happy Idiot”. The former features a springy synth bassline that builds to a bombastic chorus. The latter is clearly the album’s lead single: “Happy Idiot” is easily the breeziest, catchiest, and most nonchalantly badass song of the bunch.
Act II is the comedown (a.k.a. the sagging mid-section): “Test Pilot” is a beautifully sad song where Adebimpe appears to accept his own disillusionment. “Love Stained” and “Ride” share a similar sense of romance, though less successfully; both songs lyrically express well-worn ‘carpe diem’ tropes that sink into uninspired, slightly cheesy arrangements.
Act III’s sequential pairing of “Winter” and “Lazerray” is the hardest-hitting and dirtiest moment on the album, with both songs taking stylistic cues from garage rock, punk, and rockabilly. “Lazerray” shares attributes of songs from fellow indie rock icons Vampire Weekend (“Diane Young”) and Arcade Fire (“Month of May”). The record closes on two mid-tempo, but upbeat songs: “Trouble” in particular is an album highlight that showcases the band’s acceptance of their place in the world. Over the steady strum of an acoustic guitar (the only time the instrument is featured prominently on the album), Adebimpe recites Seeds’ general mantra: ‘Everything’s gonna be ok / Oh, I keep telling myself / Don’t worry, be happy.” Even if that is a sentiment worth repeating in the face of personal tragedy, this is a fun, interesting (though not unpredictable) record despite the group’s loss, and proves yet again why fourteen years into their much-lauded career, TVOTR is one of the most consistently solid bands in the game.