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TV on the Radio's Headphone Masterpiece

TV on the Radio is best experienced with no distractions.
TV on the Radio is best experienced with no distractions.

Trendwatchers keep insisting that the advent of the iPod has changed the way people listen to music, liberating it from the home and giving day-to-day existences something they never had before: a soundtrack. (Of course, the Walkman accomplished much the same thing a quarter-century ago, but let's ignore that. Everyone else does.) But what gets lost in the story is that, by bringing music into the environment, we also let the environment seep into our music. And some bands, like TV on the Radio, can get trampled when expected to compete with the chaotic conditions of the outside world.

That's ironic, because the band's new Return to Cookie Mountain is a headphone album in the old-fashioned sense. It's best appreciated when funneled directly into its listener's ear canal without the distraction of ambient noise — which kills it not because it's quiet like folk music, but because it's intricately constructed and dense like prog. The same holds true even for "Wolf Like Me," which in the hands of any other band would likely be impervious to outside noises. But amidst the speed and ferocity of Tunde Adebimpe's vocal — which recalls the bite of early Arthur Lee — lies a dense thicket of sound that's still thrown off balance by the world beyond the earbuds. Which, come to think of it, may be exactly the way TV on the Radio wants it.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Marc Hirsh
Marc Hirsh lives in the Boston area, where he indulges in the magic trinity of improv comedy, competitive adult four square and music journalism. He has won trophies for one of these, but refuses to say which.