Once upon a CMJ conference, I unexpectedly encountered TV On The Radio in concert. Crammed into what I think was the Bowery Ballroom, the eclectic men took the stage and took up their horns. The vision—and the music that followed—has haunted me for years. And yet, try as I might, I did not fall in love with Dear Science. I tried many methods: as background music for the workday, on an iPod while in transit, and sitting in my living room, focusing only on the music.
The band’s odd syncopation has always been charming, but this time around, I felt bewildered and uncomfortable after a few songs. Instead of enjoying the discomfort, I was unable to shake the feelings of discontent. Rather than savoring the difficult rhythms, I just wanted out. I have read that Dear Science is about loss, sadness, depression, and fear. Usually, I am quite comfortable with these sentiments; now, they just feel too close to home. Maybe this says more about my own life than this album.
Songs with titles like “Crying” are only a glimpse into the cacophonous gloom of this record. The album begins with “Halfway Home,” which references a “rest stop for the dead” in its second line. The beautiful, eerie “Family Tree” references the gallows that hang from its branches. You don’t have to scan the lyrics to know the impassioned handclaps are a cover for the miserable words. It quickly becomes all too evident.
One aesthetic detail: the liner notes are written as a long form letter than begins, “Dear Science.” It may seem quaint, but I thought it was truly charming.
If you’ve loved TVOTR before, you will likely love them again. If you only previous noticed their singles, this isn’t the time to explore more deeply. I caution that you may step into a murky musical bog from which you may not escape.