Album Review: “Seeds” by TV on the Radio

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By Matt Benson

To get the puns out of the way, Seeds is an album that has to slowly grow on you. It marks a noticeable shift in sound for TV On The Radio in the wake of the unfortunate passing of bassist Gerard Smith in 2011 from lung cancer. Seeds is a record of the band figuring out how to move on. TVOTR’s work has never been easily shoehorned into genre, but as experimental as some tracks across their discography can be, they can be characterized by a jazz and blues-rock influence that was present because of Smith. While hardcore fans may be disappointed in the more pop/ R&B sensibility that replaces that structure in his absence, the resulting album is more accessible than their earlier work, though not necessarily as satisfying.

In borrowing this sensibility, the tracks feel strangely slickly produced for a TVOTR album, lacking the grit or experimentation of earlier, blues-ier songs. Through their career, TVOTR has doggedly pursued whatever captured their momentary musical interest, leading to a diverse and eclectic repertoire. Tracks like “Quartz” or the title track do sound like typical TVOTR songs, but they follow a more traditional musical structure that can be jarring for fans of their old style. This new style can be problematic, as the single “Happy Idiot” is entirely forgettable in a poppy, U2-rock sort of way, as are the bland “Winter” and “Trouble.” The musical versatility is still there, but the band borrows from the current pop zeitgeist in a way fans might not be accustomed to. This is not entirely bad, however, as “Love Stained,” “Ride,” “Right Now,” and “Lazerray,” (all buried deep into the album) are all interesting, well arranged songs that remain genre-less while still feeling more accessible than many of the experimental tracks on Dear Science or Nine Types of Light.

This reveals a problem with Seeds, though, as earlier albums like Dear Science or Return To Cookie Mountain felt like they ventured further musically while still maintaining cohesion as entire albums. The only real sonic link between the generally self-contained tracks in Seeds is the glossier, polished quality that feels unlike TVOTR’s earlier style. Seeds often lurches through this variety; the pop-synthy “Careful You” borrows heavily from a pop-electronic style reminiscent of M83 but then transitions to “Could You,” one of the most recognizably TVOTR-styled songs on the album, with a traditional song structure in a Spoon-esque instrumentation. The sonic jumble continues with the later “Test Pilot,” which is stylistically indistinguishable from any R&B track on Top 40 today. None of the above tracks are bad, per se, but they don’t flow together as one album and instead feel more like a portfolio of different genre experiments.

Seeds is not a bad album, and it’s probably the only kind of album TVOTR could have made following such an earthshaking loss of such a major band member. It may mark a point of departure for some longtime fans of the band, but its mainstream influences might win over a similar amount of new fans. Seeds takes time to process, but it ultimately promises growth and a way forward for the band as they continue to rediscover their musical footing.

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