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CD Review

On 'Dear Science,' a human touch

TV on the Radio "Dear Science" released on Sept. 23, is the third album by TV on the Radio. (Michael Lavine)
By Joan Anderman
Globe Staff / September 23, 2008
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"The lazy way they turned your head into a rest stop for the dead and did it all in gold and blue and gray/ The efforts to allay your dread," go the opening lines of TV on the Radio's new album, over joyful bah-bah-bah's and perky hand claps. Several bouncy, fearsome minutes later the singer announces: "I know too much. It's over now."

Oh, but it's not. "Halfway Home," the lead track on TVOTR's fantastic third album, "Dear Science," out today, may be the welcome mat at the door to the apocalypse, but like Prince and R.E.M. and Arcade Fire before it, TV on the Radio is going down in a blaze of glory.

The group's fundamental template - an atmospheric blend of post-punk, funk-soul, and heady electronics - remains unchanged, but on "Dear Science" TVOTR's multi-instrumentalist and producer Dave Sitek has stepped out of his beloved sludge and into the light. The songs are brighter, more vital, as energized and beautiful as they are portentous. It's as if the band, poised at the precipice, on a dying planet crawling with ignorant citizens, surrounded by warfare and soulless machines and a precious bit of love, figured it may as well try to lasso the pageant of life.

It's that sprawling sense of humanity that makes "Dear Science" such a rich listen. "Crying" is a muted disco tune about race riots. A string quartet pumps warm blood into "Stork and Owl," a gloriously measured meditation on the end of days, and they're joined by a horn section for the single "Golden Age," an eerie, celebratory dance-rock jam that imagines "the sun spittin' happiness into the hereafter."

Violins and trumpets are everywhere, replacing distortion with graceful, majestic textures that feel no less forceful than a squalling electric guitar. And the warmth and sparkle make sense on an album so explicitly designed to connect with people, from the double-fisted sax attack on "Dancing Choose" to quivering swells that sweeten the blows of a "Family Tree" burdened with dangling gallows and evil roots.

The album climaxes - literally - with the victorious sex march of "Lover's Day." It's an ecstatic track, filled with jingle bells and snapping snare beats and drunken, teetering brass. "Here, of course, there are miracles/ Under your sighs and moans/ I'm gonna take you, I'm gonna take you, I'm gonna take you home" is TV on the Radio's parting thought. If pleasure has the power to heal, "Dear Science" may just help us survive.

Joan Anderman can be reached at anderman@globe.com. For more on music, go to www.boston.com/ae/music/blog.

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