On their 2004 debut, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, TV on the Radio tended to put the art before the rock, which made the idea-packed disc more interesting than it was appealing. For their major-label follow-up, the Brooklyn art rockers have honed and amplified the best elements of the previous album — monster synth riffs, Brian Wilson-style multitracked vocals, shoegazing walls of sound — while adding awesome new moves in the form of drummer Jaleel Bunton, whose intense proggy bashing locks in with the bottom-heavy boom-bap of producer-guitarist David Sitek’s drum machines. Seemingly tapping a newfound well of self-confidence, frontman Tunde Adebimpe sings in a full-throated bellow — often in harmony with guitarist Kyp Malone’s spooky falsetto — that is among the most soulful and arresting voices in rock.
Evoking Fear of Music Talking Heads, Station to Station David Bowie and Sign ‘O’ the Times Prince, the resulting disc might be the most oddly beautiful, psychedelic and ambitious of the year. (If you don’t own a good set of headphones, get one.) The noisiest songs resolve into moments of intense prettiness. The prettiest — “Province,” featuring backup vocals from Bowie, and “A Method” — receive added heft from strange instrumentation (listen for the surprising Gershwin-esque woodwind filigree that emerges near the end of “Tonight”). On “Wolf Like Me,” a bluesy barnburner that drips with menace, Adebimpe sings what could be construed as the album’s mission statement: “When the moon is round and full/Gonna teach you tricks that will blow your mind.” Consider your mind blown.