Sometimes it's really hard to write about a record you absolutely adore. There's a certain sadistic glee associated with ripping a personally maligned piece of work into much-deserved shreds, and in these cases, all the bile, misanthropy, and other assorted hatred flows without incident from brain to paper. But trying to come up with a halfway decent lead for a record you've fallen in love with? Near impossible.
I can't really think of how to introduce Return To Cookie Mountain. There's so much I have to say about this record, and I have no concrete clue of where to begin. I suppose I can say that TV On The Radio have really outdone themselves this time, but it's not like I expected the sophomore slump from these guys. The glorious, controlled, pop-tinted cacophony of their live shows, where TVOTR morphed into a full-fledged five-piece, as well as the unheralded artistic break-through of the online-only Hurricane Katrina protest anthem "Dry Drunk Emperor," were all harbingers of greater things to come from these Brooklynites.
Return To Cookie Mountain delivers everything that TVOTR's adherents have been underlining all this time. Anything that may have written the band off as a novelty in the past, whether it be the neo-shoegaze elements, the resurgence of 50 years old doo-wop inspired harmonies, or the disconcerting tension inhibited in their processed beats, are pulled off with so much more confidence and vigor this go-round that any continual attempts to lump the band under any sort-of generic NYC straight-jacket are fatal oversights. Call these guys redundant, and you risk looking very foolish.
With TVOTR becoming more of a band and less a studio project, it's easier to hear the blood that runs through this band's music. The continual cluster-fuck of live drums, sampled horns, ambient debris, and, of course, thunderous typhoons of guitar noise has that sort-of organic/mechanical tension all the hipster critics seem all too often to point out. Only in this case, there's the seamless cohesion that feels resoundingly natural; for all the elements present alien to our reality, they sure sound like they've been hanging around all this time.
"I Was A Lover" opens the record on a brilliant note, pitting some shoe-gazed guitars against a cut-and-past patchwork of horns that recalls the type of hip-hop choppiness perfected by DJ Premier. Elsewhere, we have "Playhouses" and potential single-of-the-year "Wolf Like Me," where the members build up some sense of urgency that thankfully avoids the recent mope-rock/emo trap of falsified intensity. If there's any band who's making outright towering "anthems," TV On The Radio has the victory lap in the bag.
Moving on, we find the percussive a capella pop of album centerpiece "A Method" betters 2004's glorious "Ambulance," and "Let The Devil In" has the right sense of sparseness while simultaneously feeling incredibly full and built-up. And as is with the best albums we come across, I can't really describe in words what makes all of these songs such a joy to listen to. They just exist in their own plateau doing what I'm sure they're set out to do, which is find those lucky enough to come across them and provide continual moments of stereoed bliss.
If I could articulate this more, I'd gladly take up the task, but I just can't. This record is 2006's first real stunner, the sound of a band answering the indie-cynics snooty cries of "now what?" with the hugest arsenal of defense any band could possibly muster. If TV On The Radio weren't already keepers as it were, then it's impossible to deny that these guys are worth the time and adoration after this record. Yes, it's that good, good enough to reach classic status, and if ten years down the line, this isn't mentioned in the same way we think about Loveless or Slanted And Enchanted or at least In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, I'll be very surprised. And maybe then I'll just give up this job, but I implore you to take my word for it. Return To Cookie Mountain is one for the ages.
1. I Was A Lover
5. Wolf Like Me
6. A Method
7. Let The Devil In
9. Blues From Down Here
11. Wash The Day