The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, fellow downtown luminaries alongside Brooklyn quintet TV on the Radio in the early aughts, blew the NYC scene wide open, thanks to their immediate hooks, fashion-flashpoint looks, and straightforward rock nomenclature. TVOTR, however, have stayed willfully weird, refusing to commercialize the sound they created some seven years ago. Even as they made the leap to a major label with their 2006 sophomore outing, Return to Cookie Mountain, the band's stew of soul-punk, avant doo-wop, and percussive Sturm und Drang remained frequently challenging, even abrasive. Still, their first two releases offered moments of almost-pop transcendence—ear-worm marvels like ''Staring at the Sun'' and ''I Was a Lover.''
Dear Science, TVOTR's third album in four years, likely won't burn up the TRL voting lines, but it's the band's most fully realized and most consistently enjoyable record to date. Two immediate standouts, the manic, glitchy rocker ''Dancing Choose'' and the string-laden ''Family Tree,'' showcase the band's gift for creating a self- contained world in every song; the former is propulsive and urgent where the latter is quietly devastating, but both are, in their own ways, completely arresting. And ''Family Tree'' reveals a tenderness the band has rarely shown: ''Oh take my hand sweet/Complete your release/Unbury your feet/And married we'll be.''
Lest you think TVOTR have gone suddenly girl-crazy, the album brims with
cultural indictments and political references many so pointed that they manage to pierce the dense, elaborate sonics meticulously layered on by producer David Sitek, who also plays guitar and keyboards in
the band. The funk-damaged ''Crying,''
anchored by co-vocalist Kyp Malone's
airy falsetto (''In the face of death under masthead/Hold your breath through late-breaking disasters/Next to news of the trite''), and the somewhat less subtle
''Red Dress'' (''Hey Jackboot!!!/F--- Your WAR!!'') are unabashedly topical. "Stork
& Owl," meanwhile, is built immaculately
on spare electronics and hazy vocal harmonies, finding a quiet kind of power in an animal allegory that might otherwise come off as an age-inappropriate bedtime story. (Give the kids nightmares by playing them lines like ''Owl said, 'Death's a door/ That love walks through.''') And on ''Golden Age,'' the band slides into a thrumming groove that would turn Prince paisley with envy. The album's sexually explicit closer, ''Lover's Day,'' is likewise unfit for underage ears, but it's refreshingly unprecious about a well-trod subject. Amid a giddy cacophony of sounds horns, choir...dude, are those jingle bells? Malone howls triumphantly, ''Yes here of course there are miracles/A lover that loves that's one/Groomed with the laughter/Ecstatic disaster/Come let's arouse the fun!'' TV on the Radio may still and always make capital-A art, but they've found something universal, even joyful, in the noise. A–
Download This: Listen to ''Dancing Choose'' on the band's MySpace page