Clash Essential 50 – Number 4

TV On The Radio, 'Return To Cookie Mountain'

The Clash Essential 50 counts down the greatest albums of the last five years, i.e. the lifetime of Clash.

Over the past three weeks, has featured articles focusing on every one of our selected albums, revisiting these classics of our time for timely reappraisals.

Now we’re into the top five, with our number one album revealed on Friday, April 24. Be there, or be dead to us. Got an excuse? CLICK HERE.


– – –

Clash Essential 50 – Number 4
TV On The Radio, ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’
(2006; 4AD)

A watershed release for both band and the scene they were soon perceived to spearhead – experimental New York rock that looked not to the scuzzy garage-punk past of its parent city, but to a brilliant future of boundless compositional originality and genre-eschewing flirtations – ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’ raised TV On The Radio’s critical stock considerably, while laying down a template of exciting freshness that would subsequently be followed by a series of inspired acts looking to emulate the scope exhibited by this fantastic five-piece.

Arriving two years after the band’s first album proper ‘Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes’ – we can write their ‘debut’ album ‘OK Calculator’, of 2002, off as a collection of sketches for what would ultimately become this band’s focused, refined sound – ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’ displayed evident progression and an embracing of compositional playfulness that gave even its most ‘radio friendly’ moments – the single ‘Wolf Like Me’, for example – an edge over the slew of so-called avant-garde rock polluting magazine pages and leftfield festivals and gigs alike. Polished so you could see your face screwing up in amazement in it, as the record ploughed through its myriad tangents with tangible enthusiasm, the album is both accessible and puzzling, a Rubik’s Cube that’s easy to get your hands on, but not so simple to fully grasp.

The studio-acquired punch, the duck-and-weave percussion, that peppers ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’ aided TVOTR’s cause to an extent – it’s this album that catapulted band member and in-house producer Dave Sitek into the big leagues of levels-fiddling and overdub-layering – but without true quality at the heart of these songs, this record would never have enjoyed the accolades that came its way (and have continued to drift towards it ever since). Sure, it dances like twinkle-toed ballerinas on a hot tin roof, every ounce of its energies committed to delivering the sort of incessant surround-sound feeling that infects the senses and leaves them delirious, but when breaks in the arsenal appear, they afford a glimpse at the essential organics within the machine.

Opener ‘I Was A Lover’ and the following ‘Hours’ successfully meld a singular approach to song-craft with a basic human need to express emotions with deep sincerity; the latter features a vocal turn from Kazo Makino of ethereal NYC combo – and 4AD labelmates – Blonde Redhead, emphasising the vulnerability that lies but inches beneath the band’s surface confidence. Accomplished players, each band member presents to the fore great technical ability; but throughout the five of TVOTR runs a rich seam of soulfulness, and it’s this insatiable thirst for making bodies move as one, and having an audience feel their way through these songs just as their makers progressed through the writing process with no corner considered unturnable, that connects each piece with the listener. The roaring chorus of ‘Province’ – simultaneously a raging whirlwind of sound and a tender, touching ballad – is hugely affecting (and yes, that is David Bowie you hear on back-ups; Katrina Ford of Celebration also features on a handful of songs), and closer ‘Wash The Day Away’ matches the might of said sonically scintillating standout decibel for decibel.

Much like some of its surrounding albums in the Clash Essential 50, ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’ is a record still very much masking some of its charms – it’s a work that takes time to pick apart, to digest to the extent where you feel it has absolutely nothing left to offer on the surprises front. If, indeed, it ever truly lets loose its every nuance. A true new-millennium classic that will continue to amaze newcomers as the years pass, this long-player will forever stand as a pivotal release. It elevated the band to whole new levels of recognition, and its influence on up-and-coming artists is sure to be heard over the next decade or so, as a once-niche sound is fully embraced by whatever mainstream the future holds.

It is, simply said, the most complete record by a New York band this side of the city’s post-punk scene following the release of ‘Marquee Moon’. The Strokes, you offer? That’s like comparing dinner at the Fat Duck with a McDonald’s burger.

TV On The Radio – ‘Wolf Like Me’

– – –

Bonus interview: Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe gets retrospective with Clash…

How do you think the music had developed from your debut?
Well, at that point, we’d just finished some pretty extensive touring, so were glad to be home and had more things we were excited to try in the studio. Everyone was a little better at what they were doing, musically and lyrically, I think.

Tell us about the collaborators on the album and how they got involved.
Usually we’ll involve people outside of us, because it keeps things interesting. Katrina Ford is basically family and has been on every record we’ve put out in some capacity, and we’re always better for it. Kazu lives in New York and when we were recording the song ‘Hours’, I kept hearing her voice on it, so I called her and asked and she said yes, which was great. David Bowie had been in touch with us because he’d liked the records we’d put out previously. We played him some of ‘…Cookie Mountain’ while we were still recording and said that if there was anything of interest to him, we’d be honoured to have him be a part of it. He chose ‘Province’ and we were indeed honoured to have him be a part of it.

The album has a general atmosphere of unrest, though there are references to war, disintegration and urban decay that seem to have specific political relevance. Do you think there’s a political message in the album?
Every record we make is a document of where we are at the time, and what’s affecting us. I don’t think there are any intentional messages on the record, political or otherwise. It’s just a bunch of snapshots of where we were.

If you could go back and change anything about the album, what would it be and why?
Nothing at all. Not that I don’t think it’s flawed; it’s far from perfect, but sometimes perfect can be totally boring. I think it’s really accurate, and a good picture of who we were then.

What are your five favourite albums of the last five years?
Madvillain’s ‘Madvillainy’; M.I.A.’s ‘Arular’; Liars’ ‘Drum’s Not Dead’; Panda Bear’s ‘Person Pitch’; and Portishead’s ‘Third’.

– – –

The Clash Essential 50 so far…

50: The Killers, ‘Hot Fuss’
49: Kasabian, ‘Kasabian’
48: Deerhunter, ‘Microcastle’
47: Bat For Lashes, ‘Fur and Gold’
46: Vampire Weekend, ‘Vampire Weekend’
45: MGMT, ‘Oracular Spectacular’
44: Portishead, ‘Third’
43: Elbow, ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
42: Amy Winehouse, ‘Back To Black’
41: Santigold, ‘Santigold’
40: Late Of The Pier, ‘Fantasy Black Channel’
39: Sigur Rós, ‘Takk…’
38: Efterklang, ‘Parades’
37: Liars, ‘Drum’s Not Dead’
36: The White Stripes, ‘Get Behind Me Satan’
35: Hot Chip, ‘The Warning’
34: Fleet Foxes, ‘Fleet Foxes’
33: Benga, ‘Diary Of An Afro Warrior’
32: Feist, ‘The Reminder’
31: Broadcast, ‘Tender Buttons’
30: Battles, ‘Mirrored’
29: Klaxons, ‘Myths Of The Near Future’
28: Tunng, ‘Mother’s Daughter And Other Songs’
27: The Libertines, ‘The Libertines’
26: Kanye West, ‘The College Dropout’
25: Apparat, ‘Walls’
24: Burial, ‘Burial’
23: Gallows, ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’
22: Caribou, ‘The Milk Of Human Kindness’
21: Broken Social Scene, ‘Broken Social Scene’
20: Sufjan Stevens, ‘Illinois’
19: Soulwax, ‘Nite Versions’
18: The Bug, ‘London Zoo’
17: Brian Wilson, ‘SMiLE’
16: Isolée, ‘We Are Monster’
15: My Morning Jacket, ‘Z’
14: Franz Ferdinand, ‘Franz Ferdinand’
13: Joanna Newsom, ‘Ys’
12: Modeselektor, ‘Hello Mom!’
11: Bloc Party, ‘Silent Alarm’
10: Animal Collective, ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’
9: J Dilla, ‘Donuts’
8: Arctic Monkeys, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’
7: M.I.A., ‘Arular’
6: LCD Soundsystem, ‘LCD Soundsystem’
5: The Knife, ‘Silent Shout’
4: TV On The Radio, ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’

Got something to get off your chest? CLICK HERE to register and get commenting on our Clash Essential 50. If you’re already part of the gang, just add your words below…

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.