What You're Not Listening To

What You're Not Listening To

Wolves Like Them

January 13, 2021

A career retrospective of one of the most unique bands of the new millennium, TV On The Radio, who are one of the few music acts that continually create and release alternative rock in a sea of radio morass. #TVontheradio #TVOTR #altrock

There are certain ironies I know I run into when I write about the band TV On The Radio.

The first, obviously, is that the majority of the members are Black. I get it, as it has been far too long since anyone has seen an all-Black or primarily-Black Rock and Roll band. The irony, of course, is that Black musicians created Rock and Roll, and there were Black Rock and Roll bands long before the dominance of white Rockers, such as Hank Ballard and The Midnighters and the Ike and Tina Turner Revue with the Kings of Rhythm.

TV On The Radio, 2009. (l-r) Jaleel Bunton, Gerard Butler, Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone and David Sitek. Photo by Michael Lavine, courtesy fo Interscope.

The second, which causes more consternation with fans of current radio trends, is the phrase “Alternative”. This epithet, at one time, actually meant something. Starting off as Underground music, then Art Rock, then Punk, then New Wave, then College Rock, then Modern Rock to its most lasting label, Alternative, has become a sad marketing gimmick that has prevailed for far too long. As a radio format, it has been dull, lifeless and a complete joke for years, much like the Age of Aquarius was to 1969 compared to what happened shortly after the Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont.

Cover of Seeds, 2014. Photo by Joshua White, art direction by Julian Gross and  Babatunde Adebimpe. Courtesy of Harvest Records.

Standout artists in these genres used to be hailed and celebrated. Now, they are considered anathema and disruptive. Advertisers, of course, by and large, can’t associate with acts that are too weird anymore, because it doesn’t jive with their one-size-fits all marketing plan. And yes, it is advertisers that are driving radio, not local programmers or people in love with the music.

Even with advertisers and radio killing exciting new music left and right, once in a while, you are given a gift. TV On The Radio, whom many describe as an Art-Rock group, hail from Brooklyn, New York, and have built a small and rabid fan base outside of the Tri-State area. Starting off giving their work away on diskettes in and around the Big Apple, a release they dubbed OK Calculator, they eventually signed with long respected indie Touch and Go out of Chicago. Subsequent releases in the U.S. have been on Interscope and Harvest.

Gerard Smith, 1974-2011. Photograph by Josh Rothstein for Rolling Stone.

They were far from a traditional Rock band, often incorporating new technology and sounds, like loops, into their mix and toured steadily. With the addition of Gerard Smith on bass, a man lead vocalist Tunde Adebimpe “discovered” busking for change at a subway, the band clicked into their formidable mix that made them perennial critics darlings with their back to back releases of Return to Cookie Mountain from 2006 and and Dear Science in 2008.

They would often break from the band to work on other projects, causing their fans to wonder if they weren’t coming back. They did come back in 2011 with Nine Types of Light, complete with a short film, but this incarnation of the group was not to last, as Butler died that year of lung cancer at just the age of 36.

Cover of Dear Science, 2008. Photo by Roe Etheridge, art direction by Babatunde Adebimpe and Morning Breath, courtesy of Interscope.