NEW YORK — When word got out earlier this year that the switch would be flipped on the world’s largest proton supercollider along the French-Swiss border, it triggered all sorts of mystified reactions. Trying to study the big-bang theory by re-creating the big bang seemed to be, well, misguided. What would happen if they actually succeeded? Would a black hole swallow the galaxy? Would another big bang eat everything in its path?
The development also triggered a reaction from TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek that, like others, lay somewhere between anger and absurdity. So he wrote a letter — not to a particular scientist or institution, but to the field of science itself. “Dear Science,” it began.
“If I see something that ticks me off, I have a tendency to just really … find the most absurd aspect of it so I can start laughing at it, and science was a pretty easy target,” the scruffy guitarist and noisemaker said recently from a Brooklyn photo studio. “I mean, five really careless guys can wipe out the whole friggin’ operation in, like, five seconds.”
Sitek’s letter, written on a yellow legal pad and tacked to the wall of the band’s Brooklyn recording studio, subsequently became the impetus for the new TV on the Radio album Dear Science. It’s the band’s third full-length album and the follow-up to 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain, which saw the band grow out of the New York art-rock underground. (Sitek’s entire letter serves as the liner notes to the new album, to be released Tuesday.)
While much of the band’s music has dealt with the relationship between people — as lovers, as friends, as members of a community — Sitek’s diatribe is part of the subtle rage against the machine that also serves as an undercurrent to TV on the Radio’s contained musical chaos. The song “Crying,” for example, is about “dismantling civilization, about taking responsibility for the world that we live in and figuring out a way to tear it down,” according to guitarist and songwriter Kyp Malone. Meanwhile, “Red Dress” is the band’s reaction to the last eight years of a George W. Bush presidency, because, as Sitek said, “There’s no way in hell that we’re ever going to get the opportunity to punch Dick Cheney in the face.”
Dear Science plays more with upbeat dance rhythms and beats than TV on the Radio have ever explored before. The group’s other singer and songwriter, Tunde Adebimpe, explained that the guys took that approach because they realized “it was more fun to have a dance party every night than a séance.”
The album’s first single, “Golden Age,” is a good example of that. “It’s just not wanting to write a song about complaint, basically,” Malone said. “About these things that are sh–ty in the world and trying to present something optimistic … taking some actual responsibility to make the world someplace we want it to be.
“And we can do it with dance!”
The band recently finished up a three-week West Coast tour and will soon begin a trek along the East Coast in October. Adebimpe can also be seen in the upcoming Jonathan Demme-directed movie “Rachel Getting Married” (which inspired the song “Family Tree” from the new album). The film opens September 26.