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TV on the Radio

Biography

TV on the Radio
Josh Rothstein

One of most innovative bands of the 2000s, this Brooklyn-based quintet blends a slew of disparate elements —electronics, indie guitar rock, free jazz, funk, soul and a cappella doo-wop vocals —into a vibrant and arty sound that recalls Funkadelic, the Beach Boys, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Otis Redding and even Aphex Twin. It isn't exactly pop music, but TV on the Radio earned loads of praise from critics and fans alike with its major-label debut, Return to Cookie Mountain in 2006, and its 2008 follow-up Dear Science.

Tunde Adebimpe, who grew up in Nigeria surrounded by Indian and African musical styles, and his roommate David Andrew Sitek, producer of underground rock acts such as the Yeah Yeah Yeah's and Liars, formed TV on the Radio in 2001. Adebimpe and Sitek were both visual artists: Adebimpe had worked as an animator on MTV's "Celebrity Death Match," and Sitek painted. As TVOTR, the pair self-released a bizarre, lo-fi collection of songs called OK Calculator, a Zappa-esque album whose title parodied Radiohead's OK Computer. A buzz grew around the duo, which expanded into a full band with the arrival of guitarist Kyp Malone, drummer Jaleel Bunton and bassist Gerard Smith.

The band put out the more widely released EP Young Liars in 2003, followed by the full-length Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, in 2004 on the indie label Touch & Go. The following year, TV on the Radio posted an anti-George Bush song, "Dry Drunk Emperor," as a free download on its Web site. Return to Cookie Mountain (Number 41, 2006), which veers from driving punk rock to gentle vocal performances reminiscent of Brian Wilson's work with the Beach Boys, landed the band on The Late Show with David Letterman performing its high-energy single "Wolf Like Me." The album also included a guest spot from David Bowie on the song "Province."

In 2008 the band released its third full-length Dear Science which debuted at Number Twelve on the Billboard Top 200. In an interview at the time of the album's release, Sitek said the group's music was "representative of the human experience" and cited albums such as Prince's Purple Rain and Michael Jackson's Thriller as the high-water marks to which the group aspired. With benchmarks like that, it is perhaps unsurprising that the album was the band's greatest critical and commercial success to date; it was supported by a slew of television appearances, including a spot on The Late Show With David Letterman and The Colbert Report. While those appearances were well-received, the group's performance on Saturday Night Live was widely viewed as a fiasco. Hobbled by a poor television mix, the group sounded amateurish and unpracticed, a mishmash of disparate elements that served to slightly undermine the good press they'd received until that point. Despite this minor setback, the group continued to gain favorable attention throughout the year, and Dear Science, was named best album of 2008 by a number of outlets, including Rolling Stone.

The group's members continued to be prolific outside of TV on the Radio: Adebimpe appeared in the film Rachel Getting Married, and contributed vocals to a song by Masssive Attack. Malone released an album with the group Iran as well as with his own Rain Machine project while Sitek continued a steady string of production work for artists as diverse as Scarlett Johansson and the rapper Wale. In September of 2009 the group announced that they were taking a year-long break in order to "live a life and change things up."

Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). J. Edward Keyes contributed to this article.

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