Following 2008's Dear Science, TV on the Radio took a year off. When they reconvened for this album, Brooklyn's local heroes had apparently decided to go about things differently. They purr more than they pounce these days: Their fearsome rhythm section has been dialed way back, serving more as a textural detail than a pulse. The band's latent romantic tendencies have come into tighter focus, too. "If the world all falls apart/ I'm gonna keep your heart," goes one chorus, and although they're still convinced that the world is pretty likely to fall apart (the most cacophonous, old-school TVOTR song here, "No Future Shock," is a call to "shake it like it's the end of time"), this is as close as they've ever come to writing an album of love songs.
Not that they've gotten mushy — for every near-beatless, near-orchestral tone-poem like "Killer Crane," there's a dissonant stomper like "Caffeinated Consciousness." Sometimes, both approaches exist within the same song: This band's name implies multimedia, so it's no surprise that their favorite trick is to pile radically disparate sounds and ideas on top of one another. ("Repetition" owes a smidgen to the Fall song of the same name, but its dramatic peak is paraphrased from Dream Warriors' "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style.")
Multi-instrumentalist David Sitek's densely-layered production turns riffs into gliding and hovering clouds of sound, basslines into buzzing video-game monsters, percussion into the sound of tiny alien weapons hailing down from the sky. At the center of the vortex, as always, are TVOTR's two extraordinary vocalists, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone: Do any other contemporary rock singers shift as regularly and impressively between baritone and falsetto ranges? Occasionally, the group's delirious invention and heart-on-sleeve virtuosity circle around the back way to something like radio pop, particularly on "Will Do," a bilingual seduction that's one of the most tuneful, winning and subtly disorienting songs they've ever recorded.