TV On The Radio’s fifth album, Seeds, takes its name from the chorus lyric of its last song, sung by Tunde Adebimpe: “Rain comes down like it always does / This time I’ve got seeds on ground.” It’s a thesis mantra for an album that’s foremost about unapologetic optimism, the kind of line that could be repeated eight times—which he does—and still retain its full impact. It also anchors the best song, by far, on Seeds.
Making it through 13 years and multiple decade-essential records is more than enough cause for a band to take a step back, but TV On The Radio has especially good reason to celebrate making it this far: Seeds is the band’s first album since the death of its fifth member, bassist Gerard Smith, who played a critical role in its prior three albums, the last of which was released just days before his passing in April 2011. Accordingly, Seeds reflects a band unconcerned with challenging its listeners this time and more interested in delivering a complete collection of competent, mark-bearing songs for the sake of proudly stating the existence of TV On The Radio in 2014.
This means familiar roles for all members, roles they embrace even if there’s nothing new about them. From the get-go, when opener “Quartz” starts abruptly and seemingly mid-song, there’s immediately a calming tenor-falsetto harmony of “ahhs” between Adebimpe and Kyp Malone and a handclap-complemented beat produced with hi-fi sleekness by Dave Sitek, whose performance is especially valuable here, as Adebimpe and Malone’s songwriting alone doesn’t push very far. “Lazerray” even has an honest-to-God classic-rock drum fill.
Seeds clearly doesn’t possess the level of obsession invested in TV On The Radio’s two hallmark LPs, Return To Cookie Mountain and Dear Science, and Adebimpe has said as much upfront. “I like coming in and saying, ‘Let’s make a couple songs,‘ not feeling any sort of pressure to lock ourselves in a room. I don’t think anyone has the space [in their lives] to do that ever again,” he said in an interview with Spin last year, which is fine because that approach aligns with the core spirit of Seeds: Each song is singular, simply composed but well finished, harboring few surprises. Any one of them could be the single.
Seeds won’t go down as an essential or even particularly consummate TV On The Radio album, but it could very well fare better than others have on the charts, something that would be an appropriate, perfectly timed reward. TV On The Radio is still here, and for that reason alone, it’s time for the group’s celebration album.