TV on the Radio, here on their major-label debut, write terrifically infectious vocal hooks. Tunde Adebimpe's falsetto on the opening "I Was a Lover" is raw and vulnerable; leaning against the whirring string sample provided by David Sitek, it comes over both dreamy and intense. The wordless vocal refrain that opens "Province" promises an anthem, the type of thing a young, mulletted Bono used to riff on while waving a giant flag, and then the tune behind it cashes the check. And the martial "Let the Devil In" builds to a massive yelled chorus, with Adebimpe and Kyp Malone layering their voices to sound like a very angry line of dwarves marching into hell. These are catchy songs sung with conviction, but TV on the Radio never makes it easy. The group wraps its tunes in sludge and distortion, always opting for the spiky and angular guitar drone when a ringing lead might get some airplay. It's a distancing technique, to be sure, which might suggest to some willful obscurantism. But the unusually thick and busy production lends an undeniable weight here that turns Return to Cookie Mountain into a listening project, something to be puzzled over a little at a time. Classic albums, which this almost is, are sometimes like that.
Mark Richardson writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.