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Soundcheck: TV on the Radio, a band to see and hear

By Mark Morgenstein, CNN
November 29, 2011 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • TV on the Radio's "Nine Types of Light" peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 album chart
  • Earlier album, "Dear Science," made several year- and decade-end "best of" lists
  • On its most recent U.S. tour, the band played mostly large theaters as a sextet

(CNN) -- TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone speak in soft, measured tones offstage. Onstage -- and on record -- their voices mesh in everything from punky shouts to doo-wop singalongs.

Together, along with band mates Dave Sitek and Jaleel Bunton, they have created a unique sound that transcends genre classification and has elicited critical acclaim album after album -- most recently for their latest project, "Nine Types of Light," which came out this year.

"Everyone has a fairly distinct voice, but when anyone brings their work forward, it generally goes through the filter of all those other people," Malone said. "People add or subtract what they hear or don't hear and wrestle the song -- or dance with it. ... Whatever makes it through all the filters generally sounds like TV on the Radio, because it's been through everyone's ears."

Malone and Adebimpe each moved to Brooklyn about a decade ago as that New York borough evolved into a music mecca. Adebimpe met Sitek there, and they began playing music together before Malone joined the band. It took awhile for Adebimpe and Sitek to settle on a name.

"We had a friend who would drop by and who would not contribute much except talking (about) what we were doing," Adebimpe recalled. "He kept asking what we were called, and we said, 'We don't have a name.' And he suggested TV on the Radio. And to shut him up, we said, 'That's excellent. We're going to use that name.' "

The unusual moniker may confuse some who are unfamiliar with the band. But that group of people is getting smaller. "Nine Types of Light" and 2008's "Dear Science " each peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Both the latter and 2006's "Return to Cookie Mountain" made several year- and decade-end "best of" lists.

"Critical acclaim is a great thing," Malone said. "It's a nice thing that people are listening and digging it and in turn, if the right people say what you're doing is good, more people will open their ears to it.

"But ultimately, this endeavor, I think, surpassed all of our expectations a long time ago. Well before 'Dear Science,' we were already successful by our own standards at that point."

The members said success hasn't changed how the band approaches its craft.

"I think trying to replicate success is a tricky -- a strange game," Adebimpe said as Malone chimed in, "A fool's errand."

Adebimpe added, "I don't see how you could. If the thing that became successful was not something that you engineered to be successful ... it's not up to you in a lot of respects."

And while the group has evolved over the past decade, Adebimpe admitted it hasn't been striving to fulfill any "grand vision."

"For most of what we're doing, there's not a huge, overall plan," he said. "I think the agreement might be just to not get bored making what we're making."

Working on side projects helps the band stave off stagnation, members said.

"Every time I get to work with another group of people or every time I embark on a recording project, it's an opportunity to learn and grow inside of that, and that ends up being beneficial for me," Malone said. "You take that experience back to the band, and everyone else is bringing their experience that they had when we were off back to the band, and hopefully, we've all grown and we can assimilate that."

TV on the Radio was a quintet for several years. Then bass player Gerard Smith, 36, died in April, not long after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

On its most recent U.S. tour, the band played mostly large theaters as a sextet, with Bunton, usually the drummer, taking over Smith's bass and keyboard duties. Drummer Jahphet Landis and trombone player David Smith buttressed the sound.

"This live show is spectacular." Adebimpe boasted with a figurative wink and a nod, and an audible laugh. "It feels spectacular from where I am. It might not be."

Watching fans dancing to the hybrid of punk, funk, soul and electronica, it's hard to describe the scene any other way. Those dancing fans include a significant number of females, which sets the group apart from many of its indie-rock peers.

TV on the Radio headlines most of its concerts, and Adebimpe said, "There are definitely advantages to playing a show where you know everyone is coming to see you."

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